The New York Police Department will have an African American woman at its helm for the first time. Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced on Wednesday that he is appointing Keechant Sewell, Nassau County, N.Y., chief of detectives, to become NYPD Commissioner.
According to The New York Times, Adams selected Sewell from a pool of candidates from within the NYPD and from around the country. The mayor-elect, a former police captain, ran on a promise of balancing public safety and fair policing in a city that has seen violent crime rates increase over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sewell, 49, a native of New York’s Queens borough, comes in as the first woman to take the top spot and the third Black commissioner in the department’s 176-year history. She comes from a law enforcement agency that employs about 2,400 officers to lead a force of more than 52,000 police officers and staff.
“I’m here to meet the moment,” she told The New York Post, which first reported the story. “I’m very humbled to even be considered for this and it’s an extraordinary opportunity. And I take it very seriously, the historic nature of this.”
Sewell takes over the department, however, at a critical moment. It is a time of gross mistrust in police forces after massive protests over the deaths of Black people at police hands in high profile cases. At the same time, NYPD statistics show an overall crime increase of 21.3 percent in November 2021, compared with the same period a year ago, although murders decreased by 17.2 percent.
Adams says that he has put faith in Sewell to address the problems in a balanced way while at the same time serving a public still weary of both crime and controversial policies from the past that dogged the NYPD like “stop and frisk.”
“Keechant Sewell is a proven crime fighter with the experience and emotional intelligence to deliver both the safety New Yorkers need and the justice they deserve,” Adams said to The Post “Chief Sewell will wake up every day laser-focused on keeping New Yorkers safe and improving our city, and I am thrilled to have her at the helm of the NYPD.”
Adams, who ran as a Democrat and is the second African American to be elected mayor, has been against calls from groups like Black Lives Matter and others to defund the police. Hank Newsome, a local BLM chapter leader, even warned of “riots” if old police tactics are used again. To which Adams responded: “New Yorkers should not allow rhetoric like that. This city is not going to be a city of riots. This city is not going to be a city of burning. This is going to be a city where we’re going to be safe. We’re going to have effective policing that’s not heavy-handed.”
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In an interview with The Post, Sewell did not detail what her strategy would be for addressing crime and other public safety issues but did say she wanted to take a “full assessment” of what is going on in the Five Boroughs currently.
“I want to actually take a look at what’s working in the city and what’s not working,” she said. “I’ve been policing for 25 years, so, I’ve actually got some sort of a grasp on what I think works and doesn’t work.”