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No Confidence in O'Neill?
September 2, 2019
So the PBA has proclaimed a vote of no confidence in NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill for his firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner. For good measure, PBA president Pat Lynch called on the governor to fire Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Some would argue that Shakespeare's remark also applies to the union’s no confidence vote in the police commissioner.
Let’s begin with the last time the PBA orchestrated a no confidence vote in 2004. It was directed against then-Commissioner Ray Kelly over his handling of the fatal shooting of teenager Timothy Stansbury by officer Richard Neri. Neri had been patrolling the rooftop of a Brooklyn housing project with his gun drawn — an accepted NYPD practice — when his partner opened a door just as Stansbury opened it from the inside. Startled, Neri fired a shot, killing Stansbury.
Some 12 hours later, before the department had completed its investigation, and with the shooting heavy in the headlines, Kelly, ever conscious of how the media portrayed him, stated that Neri’s actions had been “outside police guidelines” and appeared to have “no justification.”
Neri was never indicted. A Brooklyn grand jury concluded he had fired his weapon accidentally.
But the PBA was so enraged by Kelly’s remarks, which seemed to prejudge the case, that the union issued a vote of no confidence, with Lynch calling for Kelly’s resignation. As a further knock on Kelly, Neri was subsequently elected as a union delegate.
Kelly acted differently after the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell, again indicating that he cared more about his reputation than he did about the rank and file. With the shooting in the headlines far longer than Neri’s, he fired Gescard Isnora, the detective who had fired the first shot in a 50-bullet barrage, and forced three other cops to resign.
Contrast Kelly with O’Neill, who cares very much about the rank and file. Although Garner’s death in 2014 became an anti-police battle-cry, and although Mayor Bill de Blasio, running for president, had promised “justice” for Garner’s family, O’Neill sent Chief of Department Terence Monahan to work out a deal with Lynch and Pantaleo’s attorney in which Pantaleo would not be fired, and instead be allowed to resign and keep his pension.
Then O’Neill met with the mayor — and reneged on the deal, saying he accepted the recommendation of an NYPD trial judge that Pantaleo be fired.
Unlike Kelly, who had the full confidence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and became the longest-serving and most powerful police commissioner in city history, O’Neill was a novice. In his nearly three years as commissioner, he has allowed the mayor to appoint his own people to key NYPD positions — most notably de Blasio’s former press secretary and communications director Phil Walzak to head the department’s Public Information office. When it came to his deal with Pantaleo, O’Neill did not push back against the mayor.
For that failure, many at Police Plaza have called O’Neill “weak.” His real weakness is that he has allowed the mayor to run the police department.
Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt