If it had been a storyline in a movie, viewers might have dismissed it as too unbelievable.
But in a cinematic turn of events, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill walked into an auditorium, accompanied by pomp and bagpipes and tradition, for his ceremonial swearing in just after 11 this morning—just as Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man police believe set off a bomb in Chelsea on Saturday, was being arrested by law enforcement officials across the river in New Jersey.
“This is a very special time—it’s a one of celebration and renewal, but at the same time today we find ourselves in a very somber moment,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at 1 Police Plaza this afternoon.
O’Neill’s ceremony was today, but de Blasio actually swore him on Friday afternoon, when former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton retired from the job of top cop for the second (and presumably final) time. That means the bombing—which injured 29 people but did not kill anyone—happened on O’Neill’s first full day as commissioner.
“Now, Jimmy, when you woke up Saturday morning, you did not know what would confront you. And you and I have talked about this—no one said this job would be easy,” de Blasio said. “But I want to say on behalf of 8-and-a-half million New Yorkers, we are so thankful that you have taken on the leadership of the NYPD. And you showed on your very first day what you were made of.”
The mayor praised O’Neill, a career NYPD official who had most recently been serving in the department’s top uniformed position as Chief of Department, for being calm, cool and collected in the midst of a crisis.
In his remarks, O’Neill vowed to continue his model of community policing and to make the department and the people it polices partners in stopping crime—urging people to call 311 and report quality of life crimes like loud parties or drug use outside their homes. He vowed to make the city the safest in the world—not just the safest big city, but the safest city of any size, and said that safety should be felt in every neighborhood.
O’Neill didn’t have much time to celebrate—just moments after he was handing his mother a bouquet of roses and posing for photos with her, he was standing behind a podium to give a briefing on the arrest of Rahami.
“It’s a pretty tough way to start my new position as police commissioner,” O’Neill said. “But as I always have been, I’m so proud to be part of this police department.”