James O’Neill, the new NYPD Police Commissioner, the biggest job in US policing, didn’t take too long to burnish his Irish credentials.
“It’s not true. Irish people do hug once in awhile,” he said embracing his predecessor William Bratton, who is leaving for a top security oversight job with Teneo Consulting, also run by an Irish person, Declan Kelly.
O’Neill’s mother Helen wasn’t long letting the press into another secret: her son loves his Irish soda bread and his Irish heritage as well. His sister, Sheila, also attended.
O’Neill was previously Chief of Department, the highest uniform cop role in the NYPD and was handpicked by Bratton as his successor. Known as a “cop’s cop” he rose through the ranks from rookie transit police officer in 1983 to the very top.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was also quick to praise him. “This is the man who created that vision of neighborhood policing and he is the man who will see that vision through for the good of all New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during the press conference.
“He is ready to take this department where it’s never been before," the mayor continued, "in terms of a truly deep and consistent bond between police and community.”
Reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even from communities who have clashed with police in recent years.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a leader of criminal justice reform and often spoken of as a future mayor, described the chief as “very qualified, personable and open-minded.”
“Chief O’Neill is a good man, who has always had an open-door relationship with leaders of diverse backgrounds throughout the city,” Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on Tuesday.
O’Neill is 58-years old, separated, and the father of two adult sons. He treasures the advice his mother drilled into him growing up “To be a sound and moral man,” his mother, Helen O’Neill, told reporters after the announcement. “And to always do the right thing."
O’Neill is fairly unique in the modern day as a commissioner who worked his way up from the very bottom, starting in 1983 as a transit cop.
“A lot of people back then really didn’t want to ride between eight at night and four in the morning, but they did so to get back and forth to work to provide for their families and to improve their lot in their life,” said O’Neill,who will stay the NYPD's chief of department until next month. “And they were happy to see a uniformed cop because they felt safer.”
O’Neill, who grew up in East Flatbush, said he learned how to “talk to every type of person imaginable.”
He combines street smarts with an excellent academic understanding of policing matters. He is a master’s graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He is a lifelong hockey fan, supporting the New York Rangers, and also likes cross country motorcycle trips as well as reading biographies.