First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, the top Black police official for the N.Y.P.D, has been passed over as the new police chief for the second time in his career. Instead, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea, the third white Irish-American he has chosen to lead the department.
City officials told the New York Times that Tucker had attended a meeting with de Blasio at Gracie Mansion Sunday expecting the mayor to offer him the position. An official told the Times Tucker was disappointed and did not attend the announcement Monday.
De Blasio has repeatedly said he wants to diversify the N.Y.P.D. and improve the department’s relationship with Black and Hispanic neighborhoods throughout the city. The force that will be working under Shea is becoming increasingly diverse.
The N.Y.P.D. is undergoing changes in the wake of controversy lately. Police Commissioner James O’Neill quiety resigned last week two months after he made the decision to fire Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold in 2014 that was at least partially responsible for his death. O’Neill faced backlash from both sides, with some believing he acted too slowly and others criticizing him for not defending Pantaleo — who had charges dropped against him — against Black Lives Matter activists’ and de Blasio’s progressive politics.
However de Blasio has spent most of his mayoral term straddling the line between supporting the N.Y.P.D. and supporting civil rights for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers who believe the police target them. He ran on a platform of of condemning stop-and-frisk (with the help of his biracial son Dante), which often unfairly targets people of color, and has also said he is dedicated to making the N.Y.P.D. more diverse. He condemned Garner’s death, but also remained largely inactive when it came to advising O’Neill to fire Pantaleo. Yet officers also blamed de Blasio’s rhetoric for the 2014 murders of two police officers in response to Garner’s killing. De Blasio also supported budget increases and policing strategies that many said unfairly targeted Black and Hispanic people.
De Blasio took office in 2014 and when he chose the police commissioner that year, he considered two candidates of color — one Hispanic and one Black — before choosing William J. Bratton who is white. Bratton had served as police commissioner before and led an aggressive form of street policing focused on minor crimes. Then, in 2016, First Deputy Commissioner Tucker was in the running for the first time. Instead, de Blasio chose O’Neill.
Tucker, who as the First Deputy Commissioner has the next highest position, seemed an obvious choice this time. He had served over two decades in the N.Y.P.D, and held public safety positions in both city government and the Clinton and Obama administrations. Shea was the chief of detectives and has been with the department since 1991.
While the N.Y.P.D. is made up mostly of people of color, the leadership is majority white. In the wake of recent protests against the department’s use of violence over fights and fare evasion in the subways, many are saying choosing a white commissioner is not helping the N.Y.P.D. make amends and show its dedication to improving relationships between police and communities of color.
“This was a missed opportunity,” Councilman Donovan J. Richards, a Queens Democrat and the chairman of the City Council’s public safety committee told the Times. “We were looking for leadership that has that lived experience. Even with all the good will that O’Neill and Shea have, they have not experienced stop and frisk. Their children have not experienced stop and frisk.”
Queens State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz took to Twitter to voice her disappointment.
“At a time when the relationship between police and communities of color couldn’t be worse – we chose yet another white guy?” she said. “We have many qualified men and women of color within the @NYPDnews who could lead the force in the right direction.”
At a time when the relationship between police and communities of color couldn’t be worse – we chose yet another white guy? We have many qualified men and women of color within the @NYPDnews who could lead the force in the right direction. What gives? 🤦🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️ #ICantEven https://t.co/FvGGYctL6L
— Catalina Cruz, Esq. (@CatalinaCruzNY) November 4, 2019
When Spectrum News NY interviewed de Blasio about his decision, he touted what he said were improved community relations and better training for de-escalation.
“This department’s been moving in a very positive direction. Crime down six years in a row. The relationship between police and community clearly better, and it’s going to keep getting better as we deepen neighborhood policing. … Our officers have shown tremendous restraint and much more de-escalation.”
According to the N.Y.P.D.’s quarterly reports, so far in 2019, the N.Y.P.D. documented 1,942 cases of use of force during the first quarter and 2,351 in the second. To compare, in 2017, there were a total of 7,317 use of force incidents, 1,668 during the first quarter and 1,956 during the second quarter. With 4,293 uses of force so far this year, the N.Y.P.D. has already documented in 2019 more than half of what was documented for the entire year of 2017.
Cruz also wrote in a question to the show, asking why de Blasio did not choose Tucker when he said he was going to add more people of color to leadership within the force.
“When you think about the different chiefs, you put the whole group together it looks more like New York City than even just a few years ago,” he said. “And I can tell you in the next few years you’re going to see further diversity. … You cannot say there’s one police commissioner, and particularly one police commissioner who has been part of a leadership group that has constantly fostered a different and better relationship with the community and more and more diversity in leadership. I don’t think it’s as minimal as only one kind of person can foster change.”
De Blasio said although the leadership team is still overwhelmingly white, “it’s been changing a lot.”
“I want to compare where we were six years ago and see how much movement there’s been, and there’s a lot more coming.”
As of today, just over half of NYPD officers are white (51%), 27% are Hispanic, 15% are Black, 7% are Asian and less than 1% are American Indian, according to data by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The current numbers are an improvement from a decade ago, but that isn’t saying much.
Almost 80 percent of the NYPD’s chiefs and deputy inspectors and inspectors who hold a rank above captain identify as “non-Hispanic white,” according to the Brooklyn Eagle. Including captains, the NYPD leadership is 72% non-Hispanic white.
New York City’s population is only 42.78% white.