MIDTOWN — Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill talked up the city's new "neighborhood policing" efforts at a Police Academy graduation ceremony Wednesday that added 555 new officers to the department's ranks.
O'Neill opened his speech to the graduates by offering the grads an opportunity to "practice," greeting them with, "Good morning, how are you?"
When the graduates barked back in unison, "Good morning, sir," O'Neill advised them to go "a little lighter when you get out on patrol, a little friendlier."
As the crowd laughed, O'Neill told them his advice was given in earnest.
"This is the key to being a good cop — just saying hello to people, letting them know that you're a human being also, and you care about what they care about," O'Neill said. "Don't ever forget that."
O'Neill also advised the grads to "lose" any friends or relatives who "don't make good decisions."
"You've worked very hard... to get these jobs. Make good decisions," He said. "I want to see you do your best."
O'Neill, who got his start as a patrol officer more than three decades ago and rose through the ranks to become the department's highest ranking uniformed officer before replacing Bill Bratton as police commissioner three months ago, told the graduates he hoped to see them in his position one day, leading the department.
"And you have to do that by making good decisions and respecting the people that you work with and respecting the people that you're sworn to protect and serve," he said.
As part of instituting this "neighborhood policing" approach, O'Neill said the department has "given back to police officers the ability to make real decisions, to be independent thinkers who are truly getting to know the individuals who live and work in all our neighborhoods."
De Blasio said the graduation completes the city's efforts to add 2,000 new officers to the force, "the biggest increase this department has seen in patrol strength since 2001."
That increase is integral to O'Neill's goal of improving relations between police and New York residents, according to de Blasio.
"This is the way forward, a deep and close bond between police and community, and you are that new wave who will bring this vision to life," de Blasio said.
De Blasio and O'Neill both talked about the struggle to keep officers safe, insisting building bonds with people in communities are the key to doing do.
"Our community members can and must be the best allies our officers have ever had," de Blasio said, "by giving them tips on where an illegal gun may be, or where someone may be who's being searched by on a warrant."
But the mayor also promised to continue to make "investments" in the department to ensure NYPD officers have "the best equipment, the best training, the best vests and protective gear."
"We want to make sure everyone comes home at night after serving this city so well," de Blasio said.
While a couple of low, distant boos could be heard when de Blasio took the stage, he got a far warmer welcome than at previous NYPD graduation ceremonies.