August 8, 2016: 7:00 p.m.

Bratton Stepping Down; Mayor Taps O’Neill to Succeed Him As Top Cop

Police Unions Praise Choice of Successor


HANGING UP HIS HAT: Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announces his retirement at a City Hall press conference Aug. 2. ‘I wish I had words for what this man has accomplished,’ said Mayor de Blasio. To Mr. Bratton’s left is Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez, who will become the new Chief of Department, succeeding new Commissioner James P. O’Neill. Photo: Chief-Leader/Michael Friang.

After 31 months leading the NYPD, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced last week that he would retire next month. Mayor de Blasio said he will be succeeded by Chief of Department James P. O’Neill, an associate of the Commissioner’s going back 26 years to their days in the Transit Police.

“I’m leaving with reluctance,” Mr. Bratton, 68, said at a City Hall press conference Aug. 2 with Mr. de Blasio and Mr. O’Neill. “I wish I had more time chronologically to stay around three, four years to work on the issues that are going to take that long to straighten out, but I don’t have that kind of time.”

“I wish I had words for what this man has accomplished,” Mr. de Blasio said.

O’Neill’s Assets

He said Mr. O’Neill, who will take over Sept. 16, “is one of the best-prepared incoming Police Commissioners this city has ever seen…He is the architect of our neighborhood-policing strategy,” under which officers in precincts are removed from special assignments and returned to patrol, with the aim of giving everyone time to get to know the people they police and address community problems.

“He is ready to take this department where it’s never been before in terms of a truly deep and consistent bond between police and community,” the Mayor said.

“...Jimmy O’Neill burns with a passion to keep making things better, to keep finding the next innovation. And he is going to be an extraordinary leader for his department.”

“Most of the people I know in law enforcement took this job for the same reason I did: to lead lives of significance,” Chief O’Neill said.

Executive-Security Firm

At the press conference, Mr. Bratton was not specific about his future. But Teneo Holdings, a consulting firm that describes itself as “exclusively dedicated to advising the leaders of the world’s most complex organizations,” said later in the day that Mr. Bratton will head a new division, Teneo Risk, helping businesses deal with terrorism, cybercrime and similar issues.

The press conference was more relaxed and jocular than usual. “I’ll miss seeing you every day,” Mr. de Blasio told Mr. Bratton. Mr. O’Neill introduced his mother, Helen, who “taught me the ideals of what good cops should aspire to,” and his older sister Sheila, who is “always pointing me in the right direction.” Mr. Bratton joked that Mr. O’Neill has “got to grow his mustache back so he can look more like Tom Selleck,” who plays a New York Police Commissioner on the TV show “Blue Bloods.”

Mr. O’Neill said that First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who according to news reports was the only other candidate to replace Mr. Bratton, would remain in place. The Chief added that Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez, whom he has known since they were in the 44th Pre­cinct 14 years ago, would succeed him as Chief of Department.

Mr. Bratton is perhaps the nation’s best-known police executive, and Mr. de Blasio has said repeatedly that he is its best police executive, period.

Career As Change-Agent

He started as a Patrolman in the Boston Police Department in 1970, and has headed policing organizations in this city three times. He ran the Transit Police Department, which was absorbed into the NYPD in 1995, from 1990 to 1992. He was Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Police Commissioner for 28 months until April 1996. Mr. de Blasio brought him back after taking office Jan. 1, 2014. Other top jobs included Police Superintendent in Boston and Police Chief in Los Angeles.

TRANSIT LEGACY CONTINUES: Outgoing Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, center, leaves City Hall with his wife, Rikki Klieman, and his designated successor, Chief of Department James P. O’Neill, after a press conference Aug. 2 at which Mayor de Blasio announced his retirement and Mr. O’Neill’s promotion. ‘I wish I had more time chronologically to stay around three, four years to work on the issues that are going to take that long to straighten out, but I don’t have that kind of time,’ said Mr. Bratton, 68. He and Mr. O’Neill first connected at the old Transit Police Department, which was consolidated into the NYPD in 1995.

Mr. Bratton’s signature achievement in those jobs has been sharp reductions in crime. He was also credited with addressing morale prob­lems—although the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said he had not made an impact on that front in his current term—and making officers more friendly with the public.

As Transit Police Chief, he gave officers 9-mm. pistols to replace their old revolvers, putting them on a more-equal footing with some of the criminals they were fight­ing. In Los Angeles he was credited with easing draconian disciplinary policies and improving relationships between police and minority residents.

Working with the late Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple during his first term in New York, he implemented CompStat, a way of cataloging crime and directing resources to fight it that has been copied by police departments around the world. A number of non-police agencies in the city have developed their own versions of the system.

Incurred Rudy’s Jealousy

He was so successful fighting crime in his first term as Police Commissioner that Mr. Giuliani forced him out after his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Mr. Giuliani thought he, not Mr. Bratton, should get the credit for driving down crime.

Mr. de Blasio, who campaigned in 2013 on the prom­ise of reining in a police department that conducted stop-and-frisks so aggressively that a Federal Judge declared its practices unconstitutional, appointed Mr. Bratton at a time when his critics said they expected crime to skyrocket on his watch.

Instead, it continued to decline. Homicides hit a historic low during the first year of his term. They were down even further in the first six months of this year. Violent crime continued to drop in July, the department reported Aug. 4.

Mr. Bratton has de-emphasized stop-and-frisk in favor of what he calls precision policing, meaning that resources should be directed at the relatively small population, perhaps thousands in a city of 8½ million, that drives violent crime. He has doub­led down on gang takedowns and firearms sei­zures, both of which have risen since he took office at the beginning of 2014.

Some Reformers Not Fans

Despite these successes, he is unpopular with police-reform groups, some lawma­kers and economically-deprived pockets of the black community. They fault his reliance on the broken-windows theory as a way of reducing crime. The theory assumes that strict enforcement of minor infractions, such as fare-beating and panhandling, will deter major crimes such as robbery and murder. Mr. Bratton brought broken-windows to the city when he worked under Mr. Giuliani, and has converted Mr. de Blasio into an enthusiastic supporter.

However, reformers say that laws against public drink­ing, public urination, being in a park after dark and similar violations have been enforced disproportionately against people of color. Bratton critics contend that people are being brought into contact with the court system, risking arrest warrants as well as convictions that could circumscribe their futures, over infractions to which most New Yorkers are indifferent.

While praising him for reducing stop-and-frisks and improving training, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “Commissioner Bratton remains stubbornly committed to broken-windows policing. This outmoded policing model of the 1990s is not effective and thrusts millions of New Yorkers into the clutches of the criminal-justice system.”

Blasted IG’s Findings

Mr. Bratton, while saying that arrests and summonses have declined as part of a “peace dividend” accompanying the drop in crime, still staunchly defends the broken-windows theory. He rejected a recent report by the NYPD Inspector General that found felonies had declined even as the number of misdemeanor arrests and summonses had fallen—directly opposite what broken-windows advocates said would happen.

The New York Times reported July 25 that Mr. Bratton would not be around for a second de Blasio term, saying he would leave no later than the end of 2017. In fact, he and the Mr. de Blasio privately discussed his retirement July 8, after a press conference about crime statistics. He said at last week’s press conference that the Times was interviewing him for a profile and “I was very careful with my wording.”

Mr. de Blasio said that the decision on Mr. O’Neill as Mr. Bratton’s successor was made the day before last week’s press conference, and that he had conferred with his wife, Chir­lane McCray, First Dep­uty Mayor Anthony Shorris and Mr. Shorris’s Chief of Staff, Dominic Williams.

Police unions and other city and law-enforcement officials had praise for Mr. Bratton after his retirement announcement.

SBA Head Sole Union Critic

Four of the police unions wished him well. The exception was the Sergeants Benevolent Association, whose president, Edward D. Mullins, is angry at Mr. Bratton for placing on modified duty the Probationary Ser­geant supervising patrol when Eric Garner died shortly after his arrest in July 2014. Mr. Mullins contended that the Sergeant, Kizzy Adonis, had followed procedure and shouldn’t have been disciplined.

“I’m glad,” Mr. Mullins said in an interview about the retirement. “I think it was long overdue.” He said Mr. Bratton had concentrated on fall­ing crime statistics and new technology, “but these are the positives.” The union leader ticked off a series of negatives: the Federal investigation into favoritism by police commanders to Orthodox Jewish comm­unities, policies that have upset minority residents, low morale.

“It’s time for a change,” he said. “I have to give him credit for knowing it was time to go.”

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said: “We thank Commissioner Bratton for his service to New York City during a very challenging period for the NYPD and its members. We wish him well in his new endeavors.

“We hope that Chief O’Neill will make supporting and protecting police officers on the street his first priority when he assumes his new role. We look forward to working with him to make sure that New York City police officers are fully supported, with the fair compensation, staffing, equipment and training that we need to protect all New Yorkers.”

DEA Head’s Shot At Mayor

“I really can’t say I am surprised by his abrupt exit,” Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endow­ment Association, said in an e-mail. “In fact, I am shock­ed he lasted this long given the conditions and atmosphere that exists for law enforcement in New York City. Two-and-a-half years is a long time for a successful police manager to co-exist with the anti-police mentality that dominates both sides of City Hall.

“I get the sense Commissioner Bratton knew the challenges he faced when he returned and he gave it a try knowing it was in conflict with his DNA. In every other city where he was Commissioner, including his first stint with the NYPD, he had the full support of his Mayor and a proactive-policing approach. The cop inside of me leads me to believe this time the support was not genuine and just for the TV cameras, since proactive policing is in conflict with Mayor de Blasio’s DNA.

He continued, “I wish Bill Bratton well. He respected Detectives and the work we do. I also found him to be fair and responsive to me on disciplinary issues, saving jobs and pensions. Thanks and good luck.”

“We were a little surprised at the quickness of it,” said Louis Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association. “He said he wouldn’t finish the term, but I didn’t expect it to be September. I think he has done a very good job at a very difficult time. I’m sorry to see him leave.

‘O’Neill the Right Choice’

“O’Neill is the right choice for us. Commissioner Bratton was always willing to sit down with us. Chief O’Neill is the same way, He has an open-door policy. We don’t always agree, but both of them have been very accessible to the union.”

Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association, was also surprised at how quickly the retirement announcement came. “I think he has done a great job since he came back,” he said of Mr. Bratton. “The choice of Jim O’Neill was a responsible one. He can continue the policies and practices of the NYPD that make us great.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bha­rara, whose office is prosecuting alleged corruption by some top NYPD commanders, said of the departing Commissioner, ”For his strong stewardship of the NYPD during these challenging times for law enforcement, every New Yorker owes him a debt of gratitude. Over a long career, on both coasts, no one has done more for policing and public safety in America’s largest cities than Bill Bratton. Under his leadership, the relationship between the NYPD and our office is as strong as ever.”

“After decades of unprecedented policing successes in Boston, Los Angles and New York, Commissioner Bratton will end his tenure at the peak of his prowess,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission. “New York owes him a great debt for his service. Per­h­aps no other appointed official has had the positive impact on our city that Bill Bratton has.”