Dermot F. Shea’s long career at the New York City Police Department has included stints as commander of a Bronx precinct, a crime control analyst and most recently as chief of detectives.
At the stroke of midnight Saturday night, he is also slated to become the top cop at the nation’s largest police department when he takes over as the 44th NYPD police commissioner. He joined the department in 1991.
The son of Irish immigrants who grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, Shea, 50, says deep-rooted family values shape the way he handles people.
“Every value I possess I can trace back to my mother, my father, my brothers my sister, all five, including me,” Shea said recently as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced him as his new commissioner. “We were rich in so many ways but it had nothing to with money. Those years really formed I believe the basis for who I am. Life lessons, how to treat people, how to treat people with dignity and respect, treat people the same.”
Shea will be replacing James O’Neill, who served as NYPD commissioner for three years before announcing he was leaving in early November to pursue a career in the private sector. Shea technically becomes commissioner on December 1 with an annual salary of $238,000.
“He has a good moral compass,” said Roy Richter, head of the Captains Endowment Association, who recalled Shea pushing back against department hierarchy over a disciplinary procedure of a subordinate when he served as the commander of the 44th Precinct in the Bronx.
Close friends describe him as a quiet family man. He and Serena, his wife of 27 years, have raised three children, and for years lived in bucolic Putnam County in a house where the backyard abutted the waters of the Croton Reservoir system. His commute on a good day was at least two hours one way and to make sure he was on time for weekly Compstat meetings Shea would often sleep in his office, people close to him said.
“He works tirelessly,” said former NYPD top lawyer Lawrence Byrne, a close friend, who cautioned Shea about the grueling nature of a job that can be daunting. “But he will figure it out,” Byrne said.
Several months before he was promoted to chief of detectives in 2018, Shea and his wife — who works as a case coordinator in a health care affiliate of Columbia University — sold their home and took an apartment in Manhattan. It was a clear sign to Shea friends that he was truly committed to staying with the NYPD.
Those who know him said is his unique analytic skills, integrity and ability to command at a time when police officers are under stress from a number of directions, including a record number of police suicides in a year.
“Dermot is going to have the toughest of job of any police commissioner in modern times,” said former commissioner Bill Bratton. “He is going to be tested very quickly.”
Observers said he is taking on a complex and demanding assignment.
“The whole world seems to be turning against the police, veteran policing historian Thomas Reppetto added. “I can’t really remember a period when it has been this difficult.”
Shea is taking over at a time when police unions make persistent claims that morale is low, as officers are targets of personal and physical abuse on the streets. He’ll also have to deal with and imminent changes starting in January in the criminal justice system that is doing away with bail for many offenses, limiting the power of judges on bail and revisions in the laws of pretrial discovery.
“The key word here I think is balance,” Shea said tactfully earlier this month on the bail issue. “I think we have demonstrated we are for reform. We want intelligent reform, we want to be part of that process.”
Shea’s appointment created strong criticism as some politicians said the administration squandered an opportunity to chose someone who reflected what Queens Councilman Donovan Richards said mirrored the NYPD’s “diversity.” Current first deputy commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who is black and assumed by some to have been in line for the job, made no secret of his deep disappointment at being passed over.
Right after his designation for the job, Shea went to the conference in Puerto Rico of SOMOS, Inc., the nonprofit Hispanic group, and returned to visit Rev. Al Sharpton at his National Action Network.
Shea is expected to continue to work for the success of the Neighborhood Policing strategy that the mayor has championed and has credited with keeping crime at historically lows.
Shea is also firmly grounded in statistical analysis in developing crime strategies, said Steven Davis, former NYPD spokesman under Bratton and O’Neill.
“If there is crime analysis, Dermot is probably one of the best in policing today,” said Davis, who added Shea understands what Davis called the “complexity of command,” turning crime data into strategies for the street.
In such a high profile spot, Shea will be constantly on the firing line with the media. But as Davis recalled, Shea was always one of several key people both he and Bratton could count on to brief reporters.
The department declined to make Shea available before he took over as commissioner to talk about his plans. But based on his earlier statements, Shea seems committed to a collaborative approach between the police and the public.
“There is nothing better than talking to people, day in and day out,” Shea said, recalling his time at the Bronx precinct. “It struck me immediately, how much you are needed.”