Last week, as millions of New Yorkers celebrated Thanksgiving throughout the City, Carlos Gomez, NYPD’s highest ranking uniformed officer, quietly announced his impending retirement. Gomez, currently Chief of Department, occupies another rarefied category as the first Latino in his position, and one of just a handful of people of color among the NYPD top brass. As Commissioner O’Neill searches for someone to fill Gomez’s trailblazing shoes, it would behoove him to select a successor that reflects and affirms the diversity of New York City. A respected veteran who understands both the perspectives of officers and the communities they patrol. A leader who can manage the day-to-day operations of the police department without missing a beat. The next Chief of Department should be someone who understands intersectionality on a gut level, which is why O’Neill should choose a woman.
Women make up approximately 17.5 percent of the police force, but occupy only one percent of the most senior leadership roles. To its credit, there have been demonstrable strides with respect to ethnic and gender diversity among police on the force over the past three decades, and I salute them. There now exists a diverse and seasoned talent pool of women from which to cull the next generation of NYPD leadership. Their prominence will help ensure that the police remain sensitive to the conditions and challenges facing women and people of color, who too often comprise our most vulnerable and marginalized victims. There are women officers from all backgrounds with distinguished records of service and leadership who would be more than qualified for top positions, but sadly their glass ceilings remain unshattered.
The New York Police Department has yet to appoint women to its most senior roles: Police Commissioner, Chief of Department and Chief of Patrol. Imagine how transformative having a woman in one of those positions could be, someone who understands implicitly that the devastation of rape doesn’t make a distinction between attackers who are familiar and those that are strangers, and uses her position to change such dangerous and erroneous views. Picture the feelings of pride and trust a high-ranking woman would engender in communities who have historically been protected by officers who were not representative of them. And, consider the little girls and young women who’ll be inspired by such appointments to explore and excel in law enforcement and other fields traditionally dominated by men.
It’s clear that the NYPD has prioritized creating a force as diverse as the vibrant city it protects. Last year, it welcomed its most diverse class of cadets in history. The NYPD has taken steps to engage marginalized communities and attempts to bridge gaps between these neighborhoods and those sworn to protect and serve them. But, to best serve our City and its evolving needs, this effort must extend to the highest levels of leadership for our most critical agencies, which include the Police and the Fire Department (FDNY). At the FDNY, the diversity push must also prioritize placing women in senior roles, particularly since there are fewer than sixty women currently working as firefighters. The Chief of Department vacancy is the perfect opportunity for Commissioner O’Neill to make the NYPD’s commitment to all of our great City’s communities more evident. And, that’s something we can all be grateful for.