Mayor de Blasio must revoke appointment of NYPD commissioner

On Aug. 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio made the passive decision to let NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton call the shots on who would take over as his successor, consciously disregarding the line of succession and avoiding an opportunity for an open and transparent process.

When Bratton announced his resignation, we got ready to give congratulations to First Deputy Ben Tucker, but were left dumbfounded when the mayor announced that James O’Neill, the “architect” of the NYPD’s neighborhood policing program, would be filling the highest civilian role in the department. Another display of mayoral incompetence met with no backlash, comments, or questions.

O’Neill enters the game with plenty of baggage. After accepting his new position O’Neill stated, “never in his life did he even think he would be standing at a podium as the next commissioner.” Perhaps this thought stemmed from his involvement in a five-month misconduct investigation in 2008.

Under his watch as commanding officer of Citywide Narcotics, 15 of O’Neill’s cops were investigated over charges that undercover officers traded drugs for information and sexual favors. O’Neill was transferred by then-Commissioner Ray Kelly. In 2014, Bratton rewarded him with two promotions: first to chief of patrol and then to chief of department.

By promoting O’Neill to commissioner and skipping over Tucker, de Blasio is pretending to be a crime-stopping mayor and a police reformer. Both believe in increased community policing, that the Broken Windows policy is evolving, and are quoted boasting that the NYPD has changed for the better – but where is the proof?

The Village Voice reported in June that during the first three months of 2016 the number of NYPD arrests for the possession or sale of small amounts of marijuana were up over 30 percent, a crime decriminalized nearly a year before. Similarly, a study done by the Police Reform Organizing Project showed that in 2016, 86.5 percent of misdemeanor arrests have involved people of color, with fare-beating and marijuana possession and sale as the highest categories.

These arrests come under the influence of Bratton, who previously stated on the radio show “The Cats Roundtable” that marijuana is the cause of the “vast majority” of violence in New York City, suggesting that weed is as dangerous as heroin. We should expect O’Neill to echo the outdated views of his predecessor. Without looking into them personally, O’Neill has already committed to back-room deals that were already made in the administration.

Of course, I am referring to the Right to Know Act “compromise,”  in which Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the de Blasio administration (and by extension the NYPD) agreed to institute changes to the department’s patrol guide instead of passing police reform legislation. It is clear that the administration’s ability to disregard the Right to Know Act is another example of Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to a cosmetic fix of the system, blatantly ignoring the main purpose of the bill – accountability.

Among the rank-and-file, we are told to remain assured that the new NYPD commissioner will continue the great work of Bratton. His “great work” includes the prevention of systemic change, which we cannot allow to continue. Meaningful reform is not only fair enforcement in all communities and decriminalization of low-level, non-violent behaviors, but also increased accountability for officers who abuse their powers.

For us on the ground, we know that the change boasted by the administration is not impacting the lives of minorities. Community policing is just another term for stop-and-frisk, and one must wonder if a different view would be taken had the line of succession not been trumped by Mayor de Blasio.

We at The Black Institute call upon Mayor de Blasio to revoke his appointment of James O’Neill. We believe that the selection of Commissioner Bratton’s successor should be an open and transparent process. First Deputy Ben Tucker has a clean record and is completely capable of serving in the interim as a search is conducted nationally and locally for the most qualified candidate.

It is time for New Yorkers to demand that Mayor de Blasio follow written protocol. We see past his cloud of meaningless rhetoric and see that his administration is blocking reform. Instead of seizing an opportunity to assert himself, our Mayor again displayed his level of incompetence.

Bertha Lewis is president and founder of The Black Institute.