Dermot Francis Shea began his career patrolling the streets of the South Bronx at the height of the crack epidemic in the 1990s — a violent, dangerous time that he nevertheless looks back on with nostalgia.
"Sometimes, I really do miss those days," said Shea, 50, reflecting his days walking a beat during Monday's announcement that he would succeed James P. O'Neill as the next NYPD police commissioner.
"There was some wet days, there was some cold days, there was some hot days, but there was nothing better than walking out and just talking to people as you would interact with them day in and day out," he said.
"It struck you — it struck me immediately how much you’re needed, how much you’re relied on in some of these neighborhoods," Shea continued. "We are the only people that can be called to help and it's something I cherish forever."
Shea, an NYPD careercop and chief of detectives since April 2018, assumes command of the 36,000-strong force as crime has continued to fall over consecutive years, though homicides and shootings in some areas have spiked recently. Shea also will have to contend with major criminal justice reforms, including new bail and trial discovery laws that some critics say could impact crime and how defendants are prosecuted.
"Dermot is one of the best prepared incoming police commissioners this city has ever seen," Mayor Bill de Blasio declared from City Hall, flanked by Shea to his left and O'Neill on his right.
Patrick Lynch, president of the NYPD’s largest union for uniformed officers and outspoken in his criticism of O’Neill, said in a statement: “We look forward to working with Commissioner Shea to combat the current anti-police atmosphere and make positive changes that will improve the lives of our police officers and every New Yorker we protect.”
Lynch had been most critical of O'Neill's recent decision to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his involvement in the 2014 chokehold death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner.
Shea, who is married and has three children, was born and raised in Sunnyside, Queens by Irish immigrant parents. He entered the police academy on April 30, 1991. An older brother and cousin also started their NYPD career that day. Both have since retired, Shea said.
He was assigned to the 46th Precinct in the South Bronx and from there rose through the ranks: He had stints in several other precincts and also worked Manhattan South and Bronx narcotics. Shea commanded the 44th and 50th precincts in the Bronx, before he was tapped to come to police headquarters, where he worked as the department's chief crime control strategist, responsible for driving down crime numbers.
In that role, he’s known as the department's statistics guru, according to published reports, sleeping on a cot in his office every Wednesday night in preparation for the department’s weekly CompStat meeting, where commanders are grilled on their crime numbers.
In a 2017 interview with the New York Daily News, Shea said the line-of-duty shooting death of Plainedge native Brian Moore in 2015 had impacted his thinking on gun convictions. "It struck me: We can't keep having cops put their life on the line, making gun arrest after gun arrest, and nothing happens," Shea told the News.
Shea’s efforts have also resulted in policy changes that department officials credit with continuing crime drops, the News reported, including the routine swabbing of guns for DNA and the collection of the names of every occupant in a vehicle during a car stop.
“We’ve attained the levels — whether you measure by any standard or metric — homicides, live saved, shooting incidents, assault victims, robberies, all at historical lows,” Shea said Monday at the news conference. “What's difficult to measure is the impact the crimes prevented, but I'm probably most proud of those. The blueprint I think is here. I think it's time to build on it.”