The NYPD has never had a female top cop — but Police Commissioner James O’Neill could see a woman taking the reins once his tenure comes to an end.
“We have a lot of really great women leaders,” O’Neill told The Post on Monday in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview in his 1 Police Plaza office. “They could do the job just as well as any man could do it.”
Boosting diversity throughout the department — and especially among the upper echelon — is one of the achievements from which O’Neill says he draws the most pride.
“You see women in executive ranks now. I think it’s important for young officers to see that,” he said. “They can aspire to reach those heights also.”
Among the female leaders O’Neill highlighted were: Chief of Training Terry Shortell; Chief of Crime Control Strategies Lori Pollock; Patrol Borough Manhattan North Commanding Officer Kathleen O’Reilly; and Chief of Community Affairs Nilda Hofmann.
But just because O’Neill is giving thought to who will follow in his footsteps doesn’t mean he’s eyeing the door.
“I’m lucky to have this job. It’s rewarding,” said O’Neill, a cop since 1983 and commissioner since September 2016, when he was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. “As long as the mayor wants me to be here, I’ll be here.”
When he does depart, O’Neill won’t obsess over how he’ll be remembered.
“I’m not a big legacy person,” he insisted. “I’m just so proud of the work the men and women of the NYPD do.”
Two of his officers drew headlines last week when they were caught on a viral video last week clubbing a pair of suspects with batons in upper Manhattan — hitting one in the face.
O’Neill continued to “stand by” the cops, who he said were cracking down on quality-of-life issues.
“They were addressing the conditions we asked them to address,” said O’Neill of officers Bramlin Rosa and Jeffrey Mota, who were responding to complaints that Aaron Grissom and Sydney Williams were smoking on and blocking the steps of a Washington Heights subway station.
“Your newspaper and a few other newspapers point out quality-of-life conditions all the time. So we’re asking cops to do this and from what I see so far, absolutely I stand by them.”
One of the men — both of whom have extensive arrest histories, including for fighting with cops — has been charged, and the officers’ actions are being probed by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
O’Neill said that the investigation is appropriate, but that such run-ins could be part of the cost of keeping the city safe.
“If there’s some issues as we go through with IAB — maybe we’ll require re-training or something more — then so be it,” he said.
“But right now I think it’s to the benefit of all NYPD cops and all New Yorkers that we stand by these two cops because look at who they locked up and look at their history.
“You can’t resist a cop. You can’t punch a cop,” O’Neill said. “You have to respect the police.”
That “fairly constant” lack of respect is one thing, O’Neill said, that cops faced long before he joined up, and will face long after he’s gone.
“There are certain people that don’t like police officers for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s difficult at times when people are hurling vitriol at you. It’s really difficult. But you get good training . . . You have to try to keep your cool.”
Today’s grueling, months-long gauntlet of academy training is one of the biggest changes O’Neill says he’s seen in his 36 years with the department.
“There wasn’t a lot of field training” when O’Neill joined up in 1983, inspired by his cop uncle, Bill Reedy. “We had a couple hours of training and then we were on our own.”
Another crucial change, O’Neill said, is the advent of modern technology, including body cameras, license plate readers and the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system.
Those factors were instrumental in leading the city to another year of crime numbers so low they would have been unthinkable earlier in O’Neill’s career, the top cop said.
The department tallied fewer than 300 homicides for a second consecutive year in 2018, and now has a murder rate of 3.4 per 100,000 residents, O’Neill said.
When the NYPD started keeping track in 1990, O’Neill said, the rate was 30 per 100,000.
“I’m not a big legacy guy,” he repeated. But “I’d like to say when I do leave that we were able to make the city as safe as possible.
“I think the basic job hasn’t really changed. That’s being able to communicate effectively and to help people,” he said. “I don’t think that part will ever change.”
Additional reporting by Aaron Feis
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