Wall Street Journal

Oct. 23, 2016 3:26 p.m

Police Union President Criticizes New NYPD Commissioner

O’Neill called police shooting death of emotionally disturbed woman an ‘agency failure’


Patrick Lynch, president of the largest New York Police Department union, discussed the police shooting death of a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman during a radio interview Sunday. PHOTO: FRANK FRANKLIN II/ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill “made a rash call” when he criticized the sergeant who killed a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman last week, the head of the city’s largest police union said Sunday.

The comments from Patrick Lynch, president of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, were his first since Sgt. Barry Hugh shot and killed Deborah Danner Tuesday night in the Bronx when she began swinging a baseball bat at him.

The day after Ms. Danner was killed, Mr. O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, described the shooting as an unacceptable failure by the NYPD. Sgt. Hugh didn’t follow NYPD protocol when dealing with Ms. Danner, Messrs. O’Neill and de Blasio said.

Sgt. Hugh has been placed on administrative leave and stripped of his badge and gun. The Bronx district attorney’s office is investigating whether Sgt. Hugh’s actions were criminal, and the NYPD is conducting an internal probe to determine whether the sergeant followed department policy.

Until Sunday, Mr. Lynch had left union reaction to Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward Mullins, who has accused the newly appointed police commissioner of engaging in “political expediency.”

“He just recently made a call, and I thought he made a rash call too quickly when we had an unfortunate death of an emotionally disturbed person by a police sergeant,” Mr. Lynch said during a radio interview on 970-AM.

“So quickly, they determined that he was wrong,” Mr. Lynch said, adding that officials should have waited until an investigation was complete and after the sergeant was interviewed.

Mr. O’Neill, who has been with the department for 33 years and was most recently the NYPD’s top field commander, was sworn in last month to succeed Commissioner William Bratton after he left for the private sector.

Police commissioners have historically faced strong backlash from police unions when criticizing the actions of rank-and-file officers while on the job. Asked about the criticism on Friday, Mr. O’Neill doubled down, saying that to him Sgt. Hugh’s actions were an “agency failure.”

Mr. Mullins, who also appeared on the radio show Sunday, said the police commissioner has been “neutered” by the mayor during his short time on the job.

The NYPD didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Austin Finan, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, dismissed the union leaders’ criticism.

“New Yorkers deserve straight talk and that’s what they got from Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill, both of whom spoke honestly about a clear fact: Deborah Danner didn’t have to die,” Mr. Finan said.

“The death of Ms. Danner is unacceptable, and while we are determined to get to the bottom of this disturbing incident, seek justice and ensure it never happens again, none of that should deprive the officer of due process,” he said.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com