Saturday was James P. O’Neill’s first full day as commissioner of the NYPD. It was the Brooklyn native’s first full day out from beneath the considerable shadow of his celebrated predecessor, William J. Bratton; his first full day as the face of law enforcement in New York City; and the first full day in his 33-year career where he showed up to work in a business suit rather than a blue uniform.
If New York’s new top cop had any doubts on Saturday morning about the depth of his responsibilities, they were put to rest by early evening, when a homemade bomb exploded in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, injuring 29 people and sending a shiver of fear down the spine of 8.5 million Gotham residents. Another device was removed from the area by the NYPD’s bomb squad.
Published photos of the second device appeared to show a pressure-cooker contraption similar to those used by the Tsarnaev brothers to kill six and injure nearly 300 at the 2013 Boston marathon. Thoughts ran to a small bomb that exploded earlier in the day near the route of a military-themed race at the Jersey shore that was expected to attract 5,000 runners. The Jersey bomb went off at 9:30 AM. Whoever planted it could have been on 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue in 90 minutes.
Is this the first salvo in a new offensive against soft civilian targets in the tri-state area? Have we entered the long-anticipated next phase of the Islamic radical jihad against the West—the one we’ve been warned about, the era of lone wolf and small-cell attacks?
At a press conference near the scene Saturday night, O’Neill stood stoically alongside Bill de Blasio as the New York mayor attempted to dodge such questions by landing a linguistic triple axel. “There is no evidence at this point of a terror connection to this incident,” the mayor declared, while acknowledging that it was “an intentional act.”
If O’Neill thought it a stretch for the mayor to look the city—and the world—in the eye and tell them that a pair of improvised explosive devices planted in the heart of New York's nightlife district weren’t intended to terrorize, his face betrayed none of it. If he thought that de Blasio was silly to ignore a possible connection to the Jersey blast, he kept it hidden. The NYPD's new chief looked hard as a rock; cold as a stone.
Commissioner O’Neill is, as they say, a “cop’s cop”—a hard nut with a soft heart. He likes Irish music, books on tape, and Harley Davidsons. He will need to bring all that humanity to the job at hand, which, based on Day One, will be the hardest of his life.
Whoever planted the bombs yesterday in Jersey and Chelsea is out there, watching, listening, taking the measure of the city—and the country. If what he sees looking back is the icy stare of NYPD commissioner James P. O’Neill, that’s fine with me. I hope that he’ll conclude that he tangled with the wrong cop.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images