NEW YORK – The New York Police Department’s Chief of Detectives James W. Essig is not happy about being forced from his job, something that frequently happens when a new commissioner takes over. As he prepares to make an exit, he also said the best form of community policing doesn’t involve programs, but is simply showing up, being professional and doing your job.
“When you get up this high, you serve at the pleasure of the commissioner,” Essig, 61, told the New York Post in an exclusive interview from his 13th-floor office at One Police Plaza (1PP) where he served former Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell. “Do I wish things were done differently? 100%,” he said. “But it’s happened to people before me.”
In nearly 41 years on the job, Essig worked outside 1PP throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn for 37 of those years.
Nevertheless, he is being pushed out nearly two years before the mandatory retirement age of 63. The veteran cop will call it a career when he departs Sept. 5, joining Chief of Housing Kathleen O’Reilly and Chief of Transit Jason Wilcox, who were both shown the door in December before they aged out.
“Those people dedicated their whole lives to this job,” Essig said. “They love this thing. Then, all of a sudden, they call: ‘Thirty days you’re gone.’”
Despite working inside 1PP for the past few years, Essig tried to avoid department politics during his career.
“(There are) little petty, stupid quarrels, stuff like that,” he said of headquarters. “I stood away from that for my whole career. And I’m going to walk out my head high knowing I tried to do the right thing.”
It’s noteworthy that the outgoing chief also criticized the NYPD’s version of community policing, the New York Post reported.
“It’s not, to me, having a barbecue with 100 kids,” he said. “That’s great. But how did you affect their lives? My thing is, when people call 911 or 311, you show up, you act professionally, and you do your job. That’s community policing. That’s what the people want.”
Essig referred to his former boss, Commissioner Sewell, as a professional, saying they had a close relationship during her time as top cop.
She resigned in June, leading to widely held beliefs that she was micromanaged by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration.
“Every day I was briefing her on something and she knew what we were doing,” Essig said. “We had a great relationship.”
The outgoing chief has been married for 39 years and has two sons on the job and a daughter who’s a schoolteacher.
As his career ends, he reflected on the value of family and the importance of being present in their lives despite enormous pressure from the profession.
“If I had to come in at 11 at night, I’d come in,” he said. “I was still able to coach my kids in football and baseball. I never missed anything because your home life is more important than this. This is going to end, but I’m still going to have my wife and kids.”