Keechant Sewell to be first woman to lead New York City police force

Mayor names Long Island police official as city’s next police commissioner

Keechant Sewell, who is to be New York police commissioner, during a press conference in New York on Wednesday. Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images

Eric Adams, New York City's mayor-elect, named Keechant Sewell, a Long Island police official, as the city's next police commissioner, making her the first woman to lead the nation's largest police force.

Mr Adams, himself a former New York police captain, introduced Ms Sewell on Wednesday as his barrier-breaking choice for one of the most high-profile and powerful jobs in his upcoming administration.

“She’s the woman for the job,” Mr Adams declared as he appeared with Ms Sewell at a news conference in her native Queens.

"She carried with her throughout her career a sledgehammer and she crushed every glass ceiling that was put in her way," Mr Adams said. "Today, she has crashed and destroyed the final one we need in New York City. "


Ms Sewell, who serves as the Nassau county police chief of detectives, will be the third black person to serve as New York Police Department commissioner. The 49-year-old will replace Dermot Shea, who is retiring from the NYPD after 30 years, having spent the last two as commissioner. She'll begin when Mr Adams takes office on January 1st.

Mr Adams had promised on the campaign trail that he would hire a woman as commissioner. Other potential candidates included Carmen Best, former Seattle chief; Danielle Outlaw, Philadelphia commissioner; Ivonne Roman, former Newark chief; and Juanita Holmes, NYPD chief of patrol.

Mr Adams praised Ms Sewell for her “emotional intelligence”, describing her as “calm, collected, confident” and someone who had risen through the ranks.

It has been decades since black person ran the NYPD, with Benjamin Ward and Lee Brown, who served in the 1980s and 1990s, preceding Ms Sewell. She will inherit a police department in flux. The NYPD has struggled to keep crime down a few years after achieving record lows.

The rise, particularly in shootings and killings, is part of a national trend in the wake of the pandemic, but police officials have also blamed state reforms that eliminated pretrial detention for many charges. There is little evidence that the reforms have resulted in more crime.

Gun crimes

Ms Sewell said she will be “laser-focused on violent crime”, with a particular emphasis on gun crimes.

“We are in a pivotal moment in New York as our city faces the twin challenge of public safety and police accountability. They are not mutually exclusive,” Ms Sewell said after Mr Adams introduced her.

Ms Sewell, as well as Mr Adams, took questions on a number of topics including Mr Adams’s controversial support of Stop and Frisk, an NYPD practice that many advocates have called a form of racial profiling.

“I understand the concerns as it relates to stop and frisk but I will tell you that anti-crime [units] in [plain clothes] work,” said Ms Sewell.

When asked about how to implement plainclothes units to avoid previous problems, Ms Sewell emphasised the importance of the selection process, saying, “You have to make sure you get the right people with the right temperament with that emotional intelligence to service the communities we’re going to deploy them to.”

Mr Adams followed by adding that city officials are exploring an opportunity to address petty crimes through social services. “If you are arrested for shoplifting where you’re hungry, why not have the agencies there to defer those prosecution to get people the resources they need?”

“This is a new way of thinking,” added Mr Adams.

Mr Adams, the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that sought criminal justice reform and spoke out against police brutality, has pledged new strategies to fight crime, including the return of foot patrols.


He has rebuffed progressive calls to defund the police and has defended the controversial stop-and-frisk police strategy as a useful tool that has been abused. He has also pledged to diversify the NYPD’s ranks.

Among about 35,000 uniformed members of the department, about 45 per cent are white, 30 per cent are Hispanic, 15 per cent are black and 10 per cent are Asian.

Ms Sewell on Wednesday reiterated that promise to diversify the force.

“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 make 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 colour to leadership positions,” she said.

Ms Sewell was named Nassau’s chief of detectives in September 2020, overseeing a staff of about 350 people. The NYPD has about 35,000 officers.

Mr Adams acknowledged Ms 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.

Ms Sewell has overseen Nassau county’s detectives, including its homicide squad and special victims squad, for about a year. Before that, she oversaw the department’s professional standards bureau and internal affairs, according to a report last year in Newsday.

She started with the department as a patrol officer in 1997 and worked her way up the ranks to become a precinct commander, to head the department’s bureau of major cases and to serve as the chief hostage negotiator.

The New York Post first reported the selection of Ms Sewell on Tuesday night. – Guardian/AP