Dermot Shea, the NYPD's commissioner-designate set to take over at the end of the month, said in an interview Tuesday that he fully backed outgoing Police Commissioner James O’Neill's firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Garner in 2014.
“Commissioner O’Neill made the call, and I support that decision,” Shea said on WPIX, Channel 11.
O’Neill fired Pantaleo in August because of the officer's use of a barred chokehold during the arrest of a recalcitrant Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island. Pantaleo's firing is being appealed by his lawyers in state court through a special Article 78 proceeding.
O’Neill’s decision on Pantaleo set off a firestorm of criticism from rank and file unions and appeared to damage the police commissioner's relationship with line officers. Protesters have also lashed out at cops for enforcing laws in the subway. But Shea pushed back at the perception that morale among NYPD officers is poor, saying cops know they are appreciated by the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers.
The Pantaleo case was just one of the issues Shea addressed, if briefly, in an early round of news show appearances Tuesday. He also discussed spiking gun violence in parts of Brooklyn and Queens that has led to an increase in homicides in certain areas. But Shea, steeped in data and metrics to measure success of investigations, said that overall gun violence has declined.
“When you look at the last couple of years in terms of gun violence, I can say we have done a good job and at the same time we never rest, there are still some issues, there are still some pockets [of violence],” Shea said on WPIX. “The good news is those pockets have been shrinking.”
Shea’s selection by Mayor Bill de Blasio to succeed O’Neill, who is leaving after three years in the post to take a private sector job, was one the mayor said he had to make quickly. In an appearance on NY1’s “Inside City Hall,” de Blasio said he only learned for certain O’Neill was leaving last Wednesday. His choice of Shea came after watching him for months run the NYPD’s crime strategies and statistical operations and because of the commissioner-designate's support of the department's Neighborhood Policing program, de Blasio said.
While some have criticized the selection of Shea as a continuation of the overwhelmingly white male NYPD hierarchy, in the end, de Blasio said, the commissioner job requires “one human being to do extraordinary sets of things … that's a special calling.”
Former police commissioner William Bratton, who supported Shea's appointment, told Newsday on Monday that de Blasio had to act quickly to prevent the NYPD from drifting for months without a commissioner during a lengthy search for a candidate who passed various racial and political litmus tests.
Among those mentioned by NYPD officials to possibly replace Shea as chief of detectives was Chief Lori Pollock, head of the office of crime strategies and a former narcotics investigator.