By Rob Frehse, Kristina Sgueglia and Eric Levenson, CNN
New York City will get its first female police commissioner in the new year after Mayor-elect Eric Adams picked Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell to take over the nation’s largest police department.
“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 in a statement released to CNN on Tuesday. “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, a retired NYPD captain who was elected mayor last month, formally introduced Sewell at a press conference in Queens on Wednesday morning. During the Democratic primary this summer, Adams embraced a public safety message and ran on a promise to beef up and reform the NYPD amid concerns over a recent rise in violent crime. Sewell will take over a department struggling to tamp down a startling rise in gun violence and murders since spring 2020. NYC has had 443 murders so far this year, surpassing last year’s total and a 45% increase from just two years ago, according to NYPD data.
Adams praised Sewell’s career with over 25 years of experience in roles including undercover assignments, overseeing gun suppression cases, hostage negotiations and commanding detective squads. Sewell has been with Nassau police on neighboring Long Island for over 25 years and was promoted to Chief of Detectives in September 2020, becoming the first Black woman to hold that role, Adams said.
She is a leader with a “full breadth of experience,” Adams said. “She didn’t sit behind a desk. She was out there learning the job and learning how to be better for the job.” The announcement of her impending appointment is “a powerful message to girls and young women across the city. There is no ceiling to your ambition,” he added. Sewell accepted the nomination and praised Adams in return for pledging during his campaign to select a woman to lead the NYPD.
“I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement. As the first woman, and only the third black person to lead the NYPD in its 176-year history, I bring a different perspective, committed to making sure the department looks like the city it serves, and making the decision, just as Mayor-elect Adams did, to elevate women and people of color to leadership positions,” she said.
Sewell said she would be focused on stopping violent crime with an emphasis on guns, and she emphasized that public safety and police accountability were related challenges.
“I will have the backs of my officers, but they must have the backs of the public,” she said.
Emotional intelligence was a large theme throughout the press conference. Both Adams and Sewell cited this concept being enacted through policies that go beyond punishing people for crimes and looking at the needs that cause a given crime. An example would include getting shoplifters connected to services like food banks to address the reason why they did the crime in the first place.
“But that is a partnership that we must conduct by making sure my chief is connected with my chancellor [of Education] and making sure (she’s) connected with my other agencies so we will prevent the causes of crime,” Adams told reporters. Sewell will take over the top NYPD position from commissioner Dermot Shea. When she is sworn in next month, she will become the first Black commissioner since 1992, when then-Mayor David Dinkins replaced Lee Brown with Ray Kelly as the head of the NYPD. Adams will be inaugurated as mayor January 1, taking over for Bill de Blasio.
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