Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell, 49, was selected as the city's first Black woman New York Police Department commissioner. Sewell will be the first woman to hold the high-ranking position within the department in its 176-year history, The New York Post reports.
Sewell will be the third Black commissioner, following Benjamin Ward, who served from 1984 to 1989 under the leadership of former Mayor Ed Koch, and Lee Brown, who was selected by former Mayor David Dinkins and served from 1990 to 1992.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams made the announcement on Tuesday.
"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. “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 in November, held a press conference in Queens Wednesday morning to officially introduce Sewell to the public.
Sewell will oversee a department that is floundering in its efforts to drive down the alarming increase of gun violence and homicides since the spring of 2020. In 2021, NYC has seen 443 killings, which exceeds last year's total and is a 45% increase from 2019, according to NYPD data obtained by CNN.
Sewell's career spans over 25 years. She served in roles that included taking on undercover assignments and hostage negotiations, supervising gun suppression cases and directing detective squads.
Adams applauded Sewell's "full breadth of experience," according to CNN, and said that her appointment is "a powerful message to girls and young women across the city. There is no ceiling to your ambition."
Sewell graciously accepted the nomination and lauded Adams for keeping the promise he made during his campaign for mayor— to elect a woman to shepherd the NYPD.
"I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement,” Sewell said at the press conference. “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."
As the commissioner-elect, Sewell said she will be concentrating on ending violent crime, particularly gun violence, and indicated that balancing public safety and police accountability will be challenging.
"I will have the backs of my officers, but they must have the backs of the public," Sewell said.
According to the New York Post, the former Nassau County chief of detectives will guide a force of 35,000 uniformed officers and approximately 18,000 civilian workers, a unit significantly larger than what she oversaw in her previous role.
“I have been doing this for 25 years, I am ready to hit the ground running,” she told the New York Post.
Adams and Sewell both agreed they will need to employ EI to cases to execute policies that explore why individuals commit crimes, rather than just focusing on the punishment of criminal acts.
"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, according to CNN.
Sewell will replace Commissioner Dermot Shea when she is sworn in next month. Adams will be sworn in as mayor on Jan. 1.