New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams appointed Keechant Sewell, a Long Island police official, as the city’s next police commissioner, making her the nation’s largest police force’s first female leader.
Adams, a former New York police captain, announced Sewell as his ground-breaking choice for one of the most high-profile and powerful positions in his upcoming administration on Wednesday.
“She’s the woman for the job,” Adams said as he joined Sewell at a news conference in her hometown of Queens.
“She carried a sledge hammer with her throughout her career and crushed every glass ceiling that was put in her way,” Adams said. “She crashed and destroyed the final one we need in New York City today.”
Sewell, the Nassau County Police Chief of Detectives, will be the third Black person to lead the New York Police Department. The 49-year-old will take over for Dermot Shea, who is retiring after 30 years with the NYPD, the last two as commissioner. She’ll start when Adams takes office on January 1.
On the campaign trail, Adams stated that he would appoint a woman as commissioner. Former Seattle Chief Carmen Best, Philadelphia Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, former Newark Chief Ivonne Roman, and NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes were among the other possible candidates.
Adams lauded Sewell’s “emotional intelligence,” describing her as “calm, collected, and confident” and a rising star.
It has been decades since a Black person led the NYPD, with Benjamin Ward and Lee Brown serving prior to Sewell in the 1980s and 1990s. She will take over a police force that is in flux. After reaching record lows in crime, the NYPD has struggled to keep it down in recent years. The increase, particularly in shootings and killings, is part of a national trend in the aftermath of the pandemic, but police officials have also blamed many charges on state reforms that eliminated pretrial detention. There is little evidence that the reforms have increased crime.
Sewell stated that she will be “laser-focused on violent crime,” with a focus on gun crimes in particular.
“We are at a watershed moment in New York, as our city grapples with the twin challenges of public safety and police accountability.” “They aren’t mutually exclusive,” Sewell explained after Adams introduced her.
Adams, the cofounder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that advocated for criminal justice reform and spoke out against police brutality, has promised new crime-fighting strategies, including the return of foot patrols. He has resisted progressive calls to defund the police and has defended the contentious stop-and-frisk police strategy as a useful but abused tool. He has also promised to diversify the ranks of the NYPD.
Sewell reiterated his promise to diversify the force on Wednesday.
“I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement because I am the first woman and only the third Black person in the NYPD’s 176-year history.” “I bring a different perspective, and I am committed to ensuring that the department reflects the city it serves, as well as making the decision, as Mayor-elect Adams did, to elevate women and people of color to leadership positions,” she said.
Sewell was named Nassau’s Chief of Detectives in September 2020 overseeing a staff of about 350 people. The NYPD has approximately 35,000 officers.
Adams acknowledged Sewell has been leading a much smaller force in her current role, but said Wednesday she helped make Nassau County one of the safest communities in the country.