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The 'Honeymoon' Between O'Neill and the NYPD Unions is Over, Sources Say

By Murray Weiss | October 28, 2016 11:50am | Updated on October 29, 2016 1:15pm
 Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the NYPD recruitment center on East 20th Street, Oct. 24, 2016.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the NYPD recruitment center on East 20th Street, Oct. 24, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

CIVIC CENTER — The bosses of the city's police unions spent an hour behind closed doors with Police Commissioner James O'Neill Friday morning — where they roundly criticized his "rush to judgment" condemnation of the NYPD sergeant who fatally shot Deborah Danner in her Bronx apartment, DNAinfo New York has learned.

O’Neill convened his first face-to-face summit with the five police union presidents in the wake of the fatal shooting of the 66-year-old schizophrenic woman — and found a respectful but tough reception, sources said.

Any goodwill O’Neill, a nearly 30-year veteran and former chief of department, enjoyed with his former colleagues has all but evaporated in the wake of his rapid declaration that Barry had violated department protocols for handling emotionally disturbed people and that the department had "failed," said those present at the meeting at O'Neill's 14th floor office.

“It disappeared the day the uniform came off and the suit came on,” one attendee observed. "Any honeymoon is over."

Accompanied by First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker and Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan, O’Neill “got right down to it” at the meeting, explaining why he believed Barry had made mistakes, sources said.

Barry had initially talked the troubled 66-year-old Danner into putting down a pair scissors, but then shot and killed her when she suddenly grabbed a bat and allegedly swung it at him. 

O'Neill said he had given the shooting "a lot of thought" and spoke honestly about it. He also suggested to those present that his remarks helped get ahead of a crisis, calmed the city and avoided potential unrest.

But the union leaders countered that O'Neill had violated Barry's civil rights without all the facts and, perhaps more importantly, raised public expectations of an indictment and a conviction of Barry, which could lead to even more unrest if it does not occur.

"People will say even the police commissioner has said he was wrong," one union leader said about O'Neill potentially raising the public's expectations, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

But O'Neill stood his ground, maintaining that if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, he would.

At one point, O'Neill tried to shift the conversation to other topics, but the union bosses would barely budge, said sources at the meeting, adding that the meeting was handled with respect and openness by both sides.

O'Neill took over the NYPD reins on Sept. 16 when Mayor Bill de Blasio elevated him to succeed Bill Bratton.

After the Danner shooting, the mayor went even further than O'Neill, declaring that “Deborah Danner should be alive today. Period.”

Asked whether he discussed his remarks in advance with the mayor, O'Neill pointed out that no police commissioner ever makes statements of such magnitude in "a vacuum."

At a promotion ceremony later Friday morning, the police commissioner said "it was a good meeting," but did not provide specifics.

"We have to engage in dialogue. I thought it was a productive meeting," he said. "The discussion, some of it was about the Danner incident. Sgt. Ed Mullins has to take his position. He has to represent his membership. I have to look out for all the men and women in this police department. I have to look out for the people of this great city also. We're not always going to be on the same page."

Another get together between O'Neill and the union chiefs has been scheduled for Nov. 1, sources say.