Last Monday, James P. O’Neill stood in a crowded auditorium to be publicly sworn in by Mayor Bill de Blasio as the commissioner of the New York Police Department. By that point, though, he had already been tested.
Mr. O’Neill, who had been privately sworn in the Friday before, responded to a bombing on a bustling sidewalk in Manhattan that injured more than two dozen people on his first full day on the job. “He woke up as police commissioner of New York City,” Mr. de Blasio said at the ceremony, “and by that evening, he was facing adversity.”
New York is a far safer city than it was when Mr. O’Neill, a Brooklyn native, started out patrolling the subways as a rookie transit officer in the early 1980s. But the bombing was an immediate reminder of what he faces in running the nation’s largest municipal police force in a moment of extraordinary challenges, guarding the city against the threat of terrorism and trying to mend frayed ties with communities that fear and distrust law enforcement.
But the moment also represented a victory. As the mayor spoke during the swearing in, an aide slipped Mr. O’Neill a note: Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the bombing, was in custody.
A day before Mr. de Blasio swore him in the first time, Mr. O’Neill, 58, sat down for an interview with The New York Times in the offices of his previous job, as chief of department, the highest-ranking uniformed member, addressing what he would face in his new role.
What do you see as the top crime threat to New York City right now?
There’s traditional crime, and then there’s counterterrorism. It used to be as a cop, what would keep you up as a precinct commander is traditional crime, but I think more and more, what’s keeping me up is the threat of terrorism.
You’re the first chief of department in some time to ascend to commissioner. Over the past few decades, the job has mostly been given to outsiders or people who had spent some time away from the department before coming back. How does your depth of experience in the department help you? Will not having that outside experience hurt you in any way?
Read more from Police Commissioner O’Neill in The New York Times [HERE].