Meet Keechant Sewell, the First Black Woman to Lead the NYPD

Sewell is set to become the first black woman to hold the post of NYPD's top cop; Current NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea will finish his term and retire at the end of the year

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Mayor-elect Eric Adams on Wednesday named Keechant Sewell as the next NYPD commissioner, making her the first Black woman to lead the country's largest police department.

After current head of the police department Dermot Shea retires at the end of the year, Sewell will oversee New York City's 35,000 officers, a police force approximately a thousand times larger than her previous post on Long Island, where she served as the Nassau County chief of detectives since September 2020.

"She not only brings a diverse set of experiences to this moment, but the emotional intelligence needed to lead at this challenging but hopeful time in our city," Adams said in a video posted online early Wednesday. He said that it was her style, smarts and composure that most impressed him — which led him to pick the previously little-known chief working on Long Island.

Sewell beat out several candidates, including former Seattle top cop Carmen Best, who said in a statement that she was "honored to have been a finalist and will remain focused on charting the future of public safety," before congratulating Sewell, who is originally from Queens.

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"I don't know all the streets, but I certainly will get to know it pretty quickly. I work in Nassau, but I'm from Queens. I'm a city girl," she said.

The press conference where she was formally announced to be the next police commissioner was held at the Queensbridge Houses, where Sewell grew up. At that event, Sewell was emotional at times, and said she was humble and privileged to be chosen. She added that she was ready crack down on gun crime, improve community relations and serve as a role model.

"My shoes are laced up, I'm ready to get to work," Sewell said.

She focused on cutting the city's recent big spike in violent and gun crime, but also touched on police accountability.

"We'll arrest violent criminals, take guns off the streets, and then build the cases to help keep them off," Sewell said. "I have the backs of my officers, but they must have the backs of the public."

The next NYPD leader wasted no time getting familiar with the city she will soon be in charge of protecting, as she visited a Brooklyn bodega where a worker was killed in an attempted robbery.

"This was unacceptable. I don't want to speak to the actual incident that happened here because it's in the hands of the investigators at this time. But when we get on board, we can take a look with fresh eyes at what's going on here, we hope to be able to answer the problems they're having here in this community," Sewell said.

Sewell, a 22-year police veteran in Nassau County, is well-liked in her department, sources said. She has previously held numerous leadership posts ranging from heading major cases to hostage negotiation.

Adams, a former NYPD captain, had long promised to hire a woman as commissioner. Other candidates that made his shortlist included Philadelphia Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, former Newark chief Ivonne Roman and NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes.

"The mayor felt very comfortable with [Sewell], and that's truly the best way to do this," said former New York State Homeland Security Secretary Michael Balboni, who knows Adams and Sewell's records in Nassau. "She's pretty apolitical. She does her job. She leads her team of detectives and she's mission-focused."

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President of the Police Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch, who has often been openly critical of current Mayor Bill de Blasio and his handling of the police force, on Tuesday welcomed Sewell "to the second-toughest policing job in America."

"The toughest, of course, is being an NYPD cop on the street," Lynch said. His statement went on to say that officers have "passed our breaking point. We need to fix that break in order to get our police department and our city back on course. We look forward to working with her to accomplish that goal."

Sewell will begin her new job when Adams takes office Jan. 1.

She will be just the third Black person to run the NYPD after Benjamin Ward and Lee Brown, who served in the 1980s and 1990s. 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 COVID-19 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.

Adams, the cofounder 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. Sewell showed her support for the mayor's proposed plans, while understanding others' hesitancy.

"I understand the concerns as it relates to stop-and-frisk, but I will tell you that anti-crime and plainclothes units work," she said.

The incoming mayor also said on Wednesday that during his search for a commissioner, he put candidates through a mock press conference, grilling them about a hypothetical police shooting of an unarmed Black civilian — insisting that composure is just as important as confidence in a police commissioner.

"We wanted to see how you deal with being under the big lights of New York City," he said. "She started out with the human part of it, and that made me sit up. Because she understood that it was a tragedy because a life was lost."

To help make the pick for NYPD commissioner, Adams relied on the advice of a controversial NYPD official — who is under consideration to be deputy mayor for public safety. Former NYPD Chief of Department Phil Banks resigned in 2014 amid a Justice Department investigation into a city corruption scandal, as documents showed Banks linked to two now-convicted fundraisers who were sent to prison for trying to bribe police and City Hall officials.

Banks allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts from the two Orthodox Jewish men, Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz. However, Banks was never charged with any crime, and the mayor-elect said on Wednesday that he welcomes Banks' ongoing input on public safety.

Banks is the brother of David Banks, who Adams picked to be the next schools chancellor. It was not yet clear if Phil Banks plans to take a job in the Adams administration.

Mayor de Blasio cheered Adams' decision, saying that Sewell was a "historic choice" who will "build on the good work we've done and lead this great department into a bold new future."

The man who currently holds the position as the city's top cop offered his congratulations as well.

"I want to wish her a warm welcome to the NYPD family," Shea said in a tweet Wednesday. "And I know the people of NYC and all the brave men & women in blue are in good hands with her at the helm."

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