New York City mayor-elect Eric Adams has selected Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell as police commissioner of the NYPD. Sewell, 49, will be the first woman police commissioner of the department in its 176 years beginning January 1.
“I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement,” Sewell said while accepting the nomination. “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.
Adams, a former NYPD captain who was elected mayor last month, formally introduced Sewell at a press conference in Queens on Wednesday morning. He had long said the next police commissioner would be a woman, but selecting Sewell surprised many considering there were other candidates with more experience leading large departments like Philadelphia and Seattle.
The New York Post reports that when Adams said he would appoint a woman to the post, his team launched a nationwide search, interviewing many female executives, including one-time Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, former Newark Chief Ivonne Roman, and NYPD’s chief of patrol, Juanita Holmes.
“This is the personification of emotional intelligence,” Adams, who will be inaugurated as mayor on January 1, said of Sewell. “Commissioner Sewell’s appointment is a powerful message to girls and young women across the city – there is no ceiling to your ambition.”
Sewell has been with Nassau police on 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. She is now leaving that post where she supervised hundreds of detectives to take over the nation’s largest police department. From January 1, she will be leading a force of 36,000.
Amid concerns over a recent rise in violent crime, Sewell said her focus will be on guns and how to get them out of the hands of criminals. “We’ll arrest violent criminals, take them off the street, and help build the cases to keep them off the street,” Sewell said.
“It is said that the NYPD is the best of the best and we are about to get even better,” Sewell said. “I will have the backs of my officers but they must have the backs of the public.”
Sewell believes that “plain-clothes units and anti-crime units work”, especially when the right people with the right temperament are placed in those units.
Sewell, a Queens native with over 25 years of experience in roles including undercover assignments, hostage negotiations, and commanding detective squads, will replace Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who was the third White male to run the department under outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Sewell will also be just the third Black police commissioner after Benjamin Ward, who served from 1984 to 1989, and Lee Brown, who was commissioner from 1990 to 1992.
“The next Commissioner must demonstrate an understanding that many community problems do not warrant a law enforcement response; that police misconduct must be taken seriously and addressed swiftly; and that tackling some of our city’s most pressing public safety issues, especially gun violence, requires full funding for proven, community-based approaches,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement welcoming the appointment of Sewell.
“The Commissioner must also immediately meet with community members to build real and meaningful pathways to input and accountability,” it added.
Sewell is not married and has no children. She grew up in public housing in the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City. She later lived in Corona and Jamaica, Queens, where a retired NYPD detective named John Wesley Pierce became her mentor.
“He always took the time to talk to me about what it meant to be a person of honor and a person who cared about the communities and those around them,” Sewell said of Pierce, who died in 2017, according to The Post.
Sewell now lives in Long Island’s Valley Stream. She loves cooking and hosting friends and family.