Mayor Bill de Blasio visited two outer-borough neighborhoods Sunday with his incoming NYPD commissioner, introducing James O’Neill to New Yorkers as a dedicated leader who will “usher in the age” of police-community relations throughout the city.
De Blasio and O’Neill, who is currently the chief of department and is set to take over for Police Commissioner William Bratton next month, marched in the annual Ecuadorian Day parade up Northern Boulevard in Queens and then toured the boardwalk of Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Bratton was not at either event.
The mayor noted that O’Neill was the “architect” of the city’s neighborhood policing strategy, which stresses personal relationships among beat officers and the people they serve and is based on building trust at the community level.
“I want everyone to meet someone very, very special ... and he is going to lead our police department forward,” de Blasio told the hundreds of Ecuadorean New Yorkers gathered in Jackson Heights. “He is going to protect this community, and communities all over the city, and he is going to usher in the age of neighborhood policing.”
O’Neill took the stage after de Blasio on the parade route and thanked his predecessor Bratton for doing “so much to keep this city safe.” He also expressed gratitude to the “men and women in blue that are standing out here today” to protect parade revelers.
O’Neill, who is 58 and a Brooklyn native, begun his tenure with the NYPD 33 years ago with what was then the New York City Transit Police.
Later in the afternoon, at Orchard Beach, de Blasio greeted and shook hands with dozens of people along the boardwalk before introducing them to O’Neill, who was in uniform. People said they were shocked that the pair made their way to the Bronx to say hello.
“They could have been anywhere else, but they chose to be here,” said Sandra “India” Guadalupe, 46, of Kingsbridge, adding that she hadn’t heard much about O’Neill, but expected his promotion would benefit young people and help keep them away from crime. “I hope it’s a fresh start because we need it.”
Margaret Evans, 59, of Riverdale, said seeing de Blasio and O’Neill in the neighborhood in a casual manner was a nice reminder that “they’re just regular people.”
Bratton, in an interview Sunday with WNYM/970 AM radio host John Catsimatidis, said he has groomed his hand-picked successor and compared the transition to the passing of a baton in a relay race.
“I actually don’t have to tell Jimmy much. He’s been very exposed to me and the commissioner’s responsibilities,” Bratton said, calling O’Neill a “younger guy who’s going to basically be moving along faster than I move.”
O’Neill will take over Sept. 16 for Bratton, who brings to a close a 46-year career in public service and begins a private-sector position with global management firm Teneo Holdings.
Other elected officials had praise and high expectations for O’Neill as he prepares to take over the nation’s largest police force.
Public Advocate Letitia James predicted a “smooth transition” and noted she did not initially know O’Neill well, but came to respect him when he grew emotional at a recent news conference as he thanked his mother for her wisdom. James applauded O’Neill for what she said will be more promotions for women at the NYPD.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) also expressed optimism during a separate Manhattan news conference. The senator said O’Neill will follow in Bratton’s methodology of being “tough on crime, keeping crime low, but paying attention to the communities. He was right-hand man to Bratton, and I think that’s a good thing.”