Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Performs Official Swearing in for New Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill

September 19, 2016

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Thank you Lieutenant Giorgio. Good morning everyone.

Audience: Good morning.

I am pleased to share my praise for a man I have come to know and admire, Commissioner James P. O’Neill.


His outstanding work over these last days has shown the world what so many people in this room already know: Jimmy is more than ready to lead the finest police department in the world. He’s been preparing for this opportunity for more than three decades. In the time honored way, our new Commissioner has worked his way up the ranks one wrung at a time, earning the respect of his fellow officers with every step.

But Jimmy is not just a cop’s cop, he is also a New Yorker’s New Yorker – a lifetime of experiences taught Jimmy that most people are looking for the same basic things in life. We want respect. We want to make a difference and at the end of the day we all want to return home to our families, safe and sound. That’s what our officers want and that’s what the people they serve want. Jimmy has already begun bringing people, our officers and civilians closer together so we can achieve common goals and its called neighborhood policing. And when I hear Jimmy talk about it, when I hear him describe a city where community residents know their local cops by name and consider them partners, it’s obvious how deep his understanding and commitment to this vision is. He believes in it because it is the right thing to do and also because he knows that it will make our city safer.

It’s the same with diversity, when it comes to bringing women and men of all ethnicities into the NYPD, I know it’s not just lip service. Because I have seen with my own eyes the company he keeps, the talent he nurtures and the people he promotes. And Jimmy’s son put it perfectly when he described his dad as a chronic do-gooder. He’s the type of person who instinctively puts others before himself. I am proud to count Jimmy as an ally and a friend and I know he will give his all to the city that he loves. And he will have a tremendous partner in our new Chief of Department Carlos Gomez who is blazing new ground as the very first Latino to serve as New York’s highest uniform officer.


I join the people of New York in congratulating Commissioner O’Neill and Chief Gomez on their well-deserved promotions. No one is better qualified to lead the NYPD to even higher heights and it is now my pleasure to introduce someone who shares my deep admiration for these remarkable public servants, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you very much Chirlane. Thank you for being a part of this ceremony. This is one of the ceremonies we cherish. As a department that has done so much, that has achieved so much, recognizes the next generation of leadership and embraces the future. It is a very special time, it’s a time of celebration and renewal. But at the same time, today we find ourselves in a very sober moment and I want to recognize the fact that I legally swore in Jimmy O’Neill on Friday. His first full day began Saturday morning. He woke up as Police Commissioner of New York City. And by that evening was facing adversity, and it was so clear to the people of this city and to the men and women of the NYPD why Jimmy O’Neill was ready to lead us all because he handled the crisis on Saturday evening the way we knew he would – calm, cool, collected, a leader, someone people look to and trusted. That’s what we saw on Saturday evening. That’s what we’ve seen in the days since. That’s what we will see in the years to come.


We also saw the finest police force in the world in action and I talked to so many residents in Chelsea – so many people who live and work there. They said what my fellow mayors have said who have called in from around the country. They all speak with such respect for the men and women of the NYPD and all of our first responders. The way in this town, people know what to do instantly. They know exactly what it takes to keep people safe, the professionalism, the courage. That’s what people in the neighborhood saw and it gave them solace, and it gave them comfort. That’s what people all over the country, all over the world see and it makes us proud as New Yorkers. That was in evidence Saturday night, it’s been in evidence since. It’s who we are as New Yorkers, strong and resilient. It’s who this department is, always ready. Always able to take on the challenge, no matter how unexpected. Now, Jimmy when you woke up Saturday morning, you did not know what would confront you. And you and I have talked about this, no one said this job would be easy, but I want to say on behalf of eight and a half million New Yorkers, we are so thankful that you have taken on the leadership of the NYPD.


And you showed on your very first day what you were made of. Let’s Congratulate Jimmy O’Neill.


And at his side every step of the way over these last years and for years to come let’s congratulate, Chief Carlos Gomez.


And again it’s a day to celebrate new leadership. But let’s remember what we learned on Saturday as we learn every day. Our warmest, deepest, strongest round of applause and congratulations are for the men and women of the NYPD.


I want to thank all those who joined us for this wonderful ceremony. I want to thank Jimmy and Carlos’s families that mean so much to them and all their strength. I want to say Cardinal, your presence makes this an even more important occasion for all of us and we thank you deeply. I want to thank all of the leadership of the NYPD, First Deputy Commissioner Ben Tucker and all of the leaders who are present here today. All of the labor leaders who have joined us, we thank you. We are particularly honored as we celebrate the success of the last almost quarter century in this city. Everyone in this room has contributed to that success in making this a safer city and we have in this room all of that history before our very eyes. So let’s thank for his presence and his service, Commissioner Ray Kelly.


And let’s thank two people who really have always been a team, Rikki Klieman we include you in that team because you have always been at his side. Let’s thank Commissioner Bill Bratton for all he has done for this city.


We thank all the elected leaders who are here. I want to start by acknowledging a former leader and I want to thank him because both Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly came into leadership in this town during his mayoralty. Thank you Mayor David Dinkins for your presence.

And we are honored to have our Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, our Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Tish James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, thank you to the DA’s who are with us the Borough Presidents, the Council members, everyone joined together because this is a day that we look forward to a bright future together. I have a particular honor, one part of this job that is a real blessing is being able to speak at an NYPD graduation and it’s a day filled with hope and promise and I’ve seen the misty look – sitting up there on that dais the misty look in Bill Bratton’s eyes or Jimmy O’Neill’s eyes, thinking about all they experienced and looking at a new generation. Well today, there is some of that same special feeling.         

And when I speak to our new officers, one of the things I want to tell them most enthusiastically – simple statement – you’re joining a winning team. You’re joining a winning team that for, now again, almost a quarter-century has made this city consistently safer. When we say we’re the safest big city in America that has been proven and ratified over and over. And every new officer contributes to that tradition.

Well, I had to think about who could lead that winning team, who could be the ultimate coach of a championship team. And a couple of things were obvious to me.

I wanted someone who had walked the beat, who understood the lives of our cops and everything that they faced.

I wanted someone who had led our officers in any number of situations and understood the dynamics that all the leaders of the NYPD have to recognize.

I wanted someone who understood our neighborhoods to the core – who felt the realities of the people of this city, who loved our city and all the communities that make it up.

And I wanted one more thing – and this a tricky part of the equation – I wanted a visionary. I wanted someone who could take the extraordinary vision of Bill Bratton and take it even farther – a very tall order.

Some people said, “Oh, we have to search the whole nation.” I knew we didn’t need to because, lucky for me, we had a real cop, a guy who had walked the beat, a guy who had commanded the men and women of the NYPD, a guy who understood and loved the people of the city – and a visionary all rolled into one. He was right here in this building and his name is Jimmy O’Neill.


Born and bred in Flatbush, Brooklyn – doesn’t get more New York than that.


Joined the NYPD nearly 34 years ago as a transit officer, rose through the ranks, commanding precincts, worked on narcotics enforcement, trained cadets – ultimately became the number one uniformed officer in this department.

But that wasn’t enough. He had a vision.

He had a vision for something that we tried in many ways but had not yet reached. Jimmy believed that this vision could be achieved and that is also the mark of a leader, to take us somewhere we have not yet been. And he painstakingly constructed his vision for neighborhood policing, and he has built it and built it and built it.

And when you talk to our officers who are part of this initiative, when you talk to community members, you hear an energy, an excitement, a sense of possibility that is truly inspiring.

Jimmy O’Neill is the architect of neighborhood policing and he is going to bring us a new approach in this city that will draw police and communities closer than they have ever been. That is a tall order but he is the right man for the job.

Now, as we do that we will continue to make this city safer. We will continue to make our officers safer. That true partnership between police and community means safety for all – everyone in this together.

I want all of our officers to know that Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill will support you. He will ensure you have the training, the equipment, the technology that you need. He will have your back every step of the way because he has literally walked in your shoes.

And I like the idea that for any hard working officer with a dream, anyone who hopes that one day they could rise up through the ranks – they’re now going to look at a Commissioner and a Chief of Department who started the same exact way they did, walking that beat, stayed with the department, gave their talents and energies, and went all the way to the top. What’s more inspiring than that? Anyone can make it.


And I have to say, if you want another great New York story, let me tell you about Carlos Gomez of Jackson Heights, Queens. Proud son –


A classic New York story. Son of hardworking immigrants, grew up in Jackson Heights, had a dream for himself, and worked and worked and worked for 33 years – worked his way up, won the respect of all around him, also, a man with deep vision, a man who understands how to construct the changes that we need.

And I have to tell you – being a trailblazer is an amazing thing. What you’ll quickly learn about Carlos Gomez is he brings all of the talent, the drive, the vision, and he has achieved history simultaneously. He sends a message to people of all backgrounds that this is an NYPD for everyone. And I know for millions of Latino New Yorkers it is a day of special pride to have the first Latino as Chief of Department of the NYPD.


This department serves every community, looks like every community, is the vanguard of making this city a more inclusive and unified place. It is an exciting day. And now – as they say – the best is yet to come.

I will now, with great pride, with great satisfaction, and with great confidence administer the oath of office to these two good men. And I’d like Jimmy O’Neill to come forward first.


[Mayor de Blasio administers the oath of office to incoming Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill]


Commissioner James P. O’Neill: Thank you. So I’m going to start on a not-so-serious note. Some things in life never change. So I’m sitting here up on stage, about to get sworn in as Police Commissioner of the City of New York, Mayor de Blasio is saying all sorts of nice things about me. And my brothers and sisters are making fun of me.


Thank you, John. Thank you, Liz. Thank you, thank you very much. My sons were nice to me today, but that will start later on I’m sure.

Just before I start, I want to talk about the last couple of days. It started on Thursday when Commissioner Bratton, who I owe so much to, and I decided we were going to take a ride on the subway. Last night, I was going to end it the way I started it as doing train patrol. Before we got up there, an incident in Midtown South started on 31st and Broadway, ended up on 32nd between 7th and 6th, and this is the story that doesn’t infrequently happen in New York City. We have a guy with a meat cleaver, just an absolutely dangerous weapon. He’s looking to cut the boot off of his car. We have two uniformed cops come up in a car. They go to lock him up, and he runs away. And as he’s running – and we have video of this – he’s swinging the meat cleaver wildly. And we have an off-duty detective walking down 32nd Street, walking to go home to his family, to his wife and young kids – Brian O’Donnell. And he decides – he makes the decision that so many police officers make every day that he’s going to do something good and do something right. And he tackles this guy. We end up arresting him. We did end up shooting him. But Brian displayed such courage that these are the stories that everyone in this city needs to know. He didn’t have to intervene. He was under no obligation to intervene in this. But he saw that his fellow officers and fellow New Yorkers – and everybody who knows New York City knows 32nd Street going to Penn Station on a Thursday night is just teeming with people – and he decided to take action. So Brian I commend you for that. I hope you heal quickly and swiftly and God bless your family.


Then as Mayor de Blasio said, you know, Saturday morning I woke up – I’m the Police Commissioner of the City of New York. I come into the building, going to move all my stuff from the 13th floor up to the 14 floor. Go to drive home, and I get that phone call from Sergeant Danny Shelly. And I came back as soon as I could. I went up to the scene, and again – once again – you see the bravery, the courage. The reason why people become cops was displayed that night. The work that they did, it’s just absolutely tremendous. And it’s not just the NYPD cops. It was the state troopers that found the second device. It was the Port Authority police officers. It was ATF. It was FBI. Every agency that showed up, they showed up because they care about this city, and they care about humanity. And again that’s the story I’m going to tell as the Police Commissioner of this city. We all became cops, we all joined law enforcement to do good and to do right. I think that’s what everybody in this city, that’s what everyone in this state, that’s what everyone in this nation needs to understand – we did this because we want to do good. Nobody on this job is ever going to get rich. And we do it because we love what we do, and we love the people of this great nation.


Thank you Mayor de Blasio for the confidence you have in me, for allowing the men and women of the New York City Police Department to do what they do best – and that’s be effective crime fighters. That’s what we get paid to do. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be standing here thinking I’d be making this speech today as Police Commissioner. I spoke to my young nieces and nephews last night, and over the course of the six weeks since I found out I was going to be Police Commissioner so many people have asked me ‘did you ever have aspirations to be Police Commissioner?’ And I said absolutely no – no I did not. I came on this job – I wanted to be a cop – but every rank that I held I wanted to do my best, and if that brought me further recognition fine. But I didn’t do it to move up the ranks, I did it because that’s the way I’ve been taught by my mother to live my life.


She was going to speak this morning, but she chickened out at the last minute.


Thanks, Ben Tucker. Thanks for staying on. Over the last two and a half years that I’ve worked with you, I’ve come to know what a great man you are, and we’re going to do great things for this city. Thank you, Ben.


And thanks to every member of the New York City Police Department – every rank, civilian and sworn, who allowed me, who helped me to get to this point because I certainly didn’t get here by myself. Thank you to all the community members that are here – the clergy, the electeds, the fraternals, the unions – and to all those who live and work in my old commands who became true friends and guides, and I see some of them in the audience, so thank you for being here today.


When it comes to policing, I can’t think of a more rewarding cause to dedicate one’s life to. And that’s what everybody in this room who’s wearing a uniform right now or who has ever worn a uniform did at one point in their lives. They made a conscious decision to dedicate their lives to something meaningful to make a difference. We the police want to help people. We want to protect people. And sometimes to protect people we have to take action to stop violence. We trust each other and depend on each other because we know we are motivated by the same thing – our sense of a common mission to protect the people we serve to make the neighborhood safe, that’s what we do. And to all of you, I say thank you for being my brothers and sisters in this effort. Best of professionalism and camaraderie we witnessed on Saturday night here in Manhattan. We’re still investigating every aspect of the incident in Chelsea. I’m confident we’ll still bring those to justice responsible for that heinous act.

Over the past 33 months, I’ve had the absolute privilege to work closely with Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton to help shift the nation’s largest police department from a style of policing that had sometimes lost focus on how to best achieve our basic mission – and that’s lowering crime – and toward a model that connects better with communities to lower crime even more. And that’s our obligation. We have pushed crime down. We did it in remarkable and historic ways. Many of you were here in New York City 25 to 35 years ago and remember what it was like, what it meant to walk around our neighborhoods, to ride the subways at night. Much has changed since then. Bellwether crimes like murders, robberies, shootings have plummeted to record lows. To see such dramatic and lasting results of our efforts, that’s simply been amazing especially as other large American cities have seen their own crime rates drop, only to watch them reverse direction. Thousands of lives have been saved. Very real tragedies have been averted. Families have been kept intact. And as the NYPD’s Chief of Department, Dermott and I lead our weekly CompStat meetings as we drilled down our crime. Cause and effect, who’s involved, why these crimes are happening, and what can we do to prevent them from happening again, have we taken every step followed, every lead, used every resource to shut down emerging crime patterns and problems? Yet as we consistently drove crime down over the years and achieved what many said was unachievable – making New York the safest big city in America – we did so sometimes at the expense of vital support in communities we swore to protect. We did so sometimes in ways that inflamed old wounds, especially among people of color. Those wounds run very deep. That’s why we’ve worked so hard at CompStat, in our commands, to distinguish those individuals who are a threat from those who are not. It is now our mission to not re-inflict those old wounds and do all we can to heal them.


In my view our two most important goals are these – members of every community should feel they are understood by their police and know they are treated fairly, when we have achieved that the NYPD will have achieved real trust. And we need civilians to view cops through the lens of trust because frankly we need their support. Many of us remember what it was like in late 2014 during those tumultuous times with all those demonstrations, when in that time Detectives Joe Liu and Raphael Ramos were assassinated. It made some of us very angry, but it also hurt us more than any of us can tell. And that doesn’t begin to describe the effect on the families of our dead brothers. All these events, all these realities meant that the mission we have worked to carry about has changed in nature and description. The police are only half the equation. We need civilians to view themselves as partners in public safety. Unless we have that connectivity, unless we overcome the barriers of mistrust, we’re not going to be able to finish the job we have started. We have one common adversary after all – the people committing the crime and violence of our city.

So let me tell you a story about crime. This past Labor Day morning, in the hours before daybreak, a criminal inexplicably shot 22-year-old Tiarah Poyau in the head, killing her. Tiarah was a grad student at St. John’s University. She had studied abroad in Europe. She dreamed of becoming a Certified Public Accountant. So why did a complete stranger point a gun in Tiarah’s direction as she tried to enjoy the J’Ouvert celebration in Brooklyn? Well, there was no reason. Two things are clear though. First, we arrested the 20-year-old man who pulled the trigger, and we will have to answer to court for that senseless act. And second, some people, primarily young men in many of the neighborhoods that need our help most don’t hesitate to carry and use illegal firearms. Sometimes, it’s completely innocent bystanders like Tiarah who fall victim to this violence. And other times, it’s our police officers.

Every day in the United States, it’s a fact we’re under fire – literally and figuratively. But let me say this – every time a police officer is killed, our society is shaken. But as cops, our commitment to our ideals never waver because we know people still 9-1-1, people still call 3-1-1, people still flag down police cars. People need our help. We persevere because we must, because that’s what we signed up for. That’s our obligation, and that’s our promise to you. That’s my promise to you. First and foremost, we are crime fighters. That’s what we get paid to do. But we will never cease the everyday work of taking care of the public. We just need to do it in different ways now.

The Mayor has provided the NYPD with everything we have asked for, everything we have needed to change our posture and to get on the right course. We have added manpower to our ranks thanks to the Mayor and the City Council for the first time in more than a decade, and purchased the necessary equipment to make our officers safer and more effective. And it’s all been in the name of saving lives and keeping people safe. I can tell you firsthand – there is no other police department on Earth that has made more of an investment in keeping the public safe.

Here’s a story about a cop in a community, of all places, the New York City subway system. And that cop was me nearly 34 years ago – as a rookie in the Transit Police Department, patrolling the subways from 8:00 at night to 4:00 in the morning. You learn very quickly how to talk to every type of person imaginable when you’re down in the subway in the middle of the night. And you also appreciate the look of relief on people’s faces when they see a uniformed cop standing on the same platform or riding in the same subway car. When Commissioner Bratton and I rode the subways on Thursday, we had that same opportunity to meet people – people were very happy to see Commissioner Bratton. I asked some young woman if she felt safe, and she said – I’ve never felt safer. It was inspiring to me back then, and I tell young cops every chance I get now – the same holds true. New Yorkers want to see you. They want the police to help them. They’re glad we’re here.

Ultimately, the residents and workers of this great city just want what we want. They want to live in peace. They want to provide for their families, to contribute to society, and to live without fear of becoming a victim. That’s all everybody wants. It’s so simple to say, and yet this valuable relationship between law enforcement and community can be quite fragile. I learned during my six-and-a-half years as a Precinct Commander that the balance can be upset by all sorts of things. This relationship we are working to repair is truly a shared effort, a shared responsibility, much like crime fighting. Our successes as a police department and as a society are won only when we work together. With the help of every New Yorker, the police continue to facilitate all the good that is done daily by law-abiding residents and workers in our neighborhoods, while we strive to eradicate pockets of violence that remain. And Dermot and I see every Thursday morning – it’s just a small percentage of the population in this city committing the crime and the violence.

How can the public help us? We want you to keep calling 3-1-1 to report the offenses that affect your quality of life – the loud parties, the graffiti in our neighborhoods, the people using drugs or drinking alcohol in public places. This is what the public has to do – call 3-1-1. I think I see Betty Crawford in the audience. She was on the Community Council up in the 4-4 when I was lucky enough to be the CO.


And if I didn’t do that – if we didn’t take care of quality-of-life offenses up in the 4-4 from 2002 to 2005, I don’t think I would have been a Precinct Commander very long. Isn’t that true Betty?


We want you to keep calling 9-1-1 to report crime. We need to hear even more about the illegal guns that are out there. Who is carrying them? Where do they live? The NYPD already does a superb job honing in on a relatively small percentage of people who commit most of the violent crime in our city. But precision policing is a 24-hour-a-day mission. We need your full partnership to keep identifying the gangs and crews that are trying to elicit footholds in our very civil society – through drug dealing, through credit card fraud, and through any other means. We are laser-focused on using enforcement against those who are actually committing the crimes. And we will continue with relentless follow-up to prevent future incidents.

We have to do all of this too while keeping the city safe from the ever changing peril of terror. And there is no police department in the nation better positioned to fight that head on than the NYPD. Clearly New York City remains a top target – obviously by the events over the weekend – by organized groups, by so-called lone wolves, and others. We formed two new units – the Critical Response Command and our Strategic Response Group. Always at the ready, these hundreds of officers are among the best trained in the country to respond to any emerging threat. Our counterterrorism and intelligence bureaus, along with patrolled services, SOD, transit, are second to none. We saw this in action on Saturday night when our personnel responded quickly and decisively to that blast in Chelsea. And I’d like to thank the two cops from the 10th Precinct who were a block away when this blast happened. They remained calm.


They remained calm. They got on the radio. They called for backup. They systematically shut down streets, escorted people to safety, and secured the two crime scenes for our investigators. Thank you, guys.

And while every day we focus on these kinds of issues locally and globally, we know that the NYPD has to evolve and find a way forward – a new way forward to meet the needs of every New Yorker. By early 2015, our neighborhood policing program was born. We started out in four moderately busy precincts that were experiencing community tensions at opposite ends of the city. We ironed out the logistics of our initiative and expanded it to the most crime-prone commands around the city. By October, the neighborhood policing command will cover more than half of New York City, including every one of housing commands. Members of the public will now have at the fingerprints the names, the email addresses, and increasingly the cell phone numbers of individual cops who patrol their streets every day. This is not a repackaged version of prior generations’ community policing efforts. It’s not about shaking hands and kissing babies. It’s about fighting crime and keeping the people of this city safe.  We have gone to great lengths to redraw the small sectors within each of our precincts, so that they represent natural neighborhoods. The same cops network these small areas every day.

As we’ve evolved, we have recognized that our profession is no longer just about law enforcement. For too long, the Department was focused on how many arrests individual cops had made, how many summonses they’ve written. No longer. In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve stopped thousands fewer people on the street. We’ve arrested thousands fewer too. And crime continues to go down. Why? Because we’re focused now on the quality of our actions, not the quantity. We take enforcement action when appropriate of course, but we’re focused on a problem-solving model at micro-level more than ever before. These problems we’re fixing together are distinct, particular, and individual. What one person needs help with in the Bronx may not be mirrored in Queens or in Brooklyn. We’ve redefined what it means to be a New York City cop. We’re no longer a specialist in one thing or another. We’re out there all working together to keep the people of this city safe.

No matter how big or small – we want to know what’s going on right on your block and what’s going wrong – where should we direct our resources, how can we amend that issue? We know our neighborhood policing program is one way to strengthen the bond that already exists in many places and bridge that divide where it doesn’t. And while we’re embracing this relationship between police and community, we’ll never stop deterring crime and disorder. There is always more to do. And we need to move in tandem with the good people we’re sworn to protect and serve.

I’m incredibly proud to be a cop, and so are the dedicated men and women of the NYPD who want to keep working for you and with you. Thank you again for allowing me to oversee these extraordinary changes we’ve already put in motion and to oversee the NYPD’s evolution.

Now, it’s possible for us to talk about the idea of a completely safe New York City, but a fully safe city depends on everyone doing what they need to do. With cops and community working together, with our partners in the federal, State, and City governments, we will continue to be a city that bucks the negative trends prevalent elsewhere, a city that embraces its differences and its similarities, a city that keeps thriving, a city that’s a model of success for the rest of America and for the world. Let us rededicate ourselves today to that mission each of us took up the day we were sworn to protect the people of this city. Let us stand together to commit one common purpose – to complete that mission of making New York City not only the safest big city in America, but the safest city of any size on every street, every block, and every neighborhood – no exceptions. Today, let’s walk out of this auditorium together, resolved to complete that mission.

Thank you very much for being here this morning.


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