New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams has tapped Keechant Sewell, the chief of detectives in the Nassau County Police Department, as his NYPD commissioner, making her the first woman to lead the nation’s largest police force.
In a statement sent by Adams’ spokesperson on Tuesday night, the mayor-elect described Sewell as a “proven crime fighter with the experience and emotional intelligence to deliver both the safety New Yorkers need and the justice they deserve.”
Sewell, a native of Queens, has served in the Nassau County police force for 23 years, with stints in the Narcotics Vice Squad and as a hostage negotiator, before her promotion to chief of detectives last year. Nassau County’s detective division has about 350 members.
The 49-year-old will soon assume control of the NYPD’s roughly 35,000 officers at a time when the department is still reeling from the pandemic and the aftermath of last summer’s fierce racial justice protests. She will succeed NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who was heavily criticized for his handling of last year’s protests.
Sewell will also be tasked with fulfilling a public safety platform that propelled Adams, himself a former police captain, into office.
Much of that vision centered around clamping down on rising rates of gun violence while ensuring accountability among officers. Adams has also floated more controversial proposals, such as returning beat cops to foot patrols, reviving plainclothes anti-crime units, and bringing back a “smarter” form of stop-and-frisk.
In an interview with the NY Post, which first reported the appointment, Sewell said that she was “absolutely focused on violent crime. Violent crime is the No. 1 priority.”
On the campaign trail, Adams repeatedly pledged to hire a woman to lead the department. Still, the choice was seen by many as unexpected, given Sewell’s relative inexperience compared to the other rumored candidates such as Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.
One source who worked both in the NYPD and with Sewell in Nassau described her as a “good pick” since she’d be seen as “split between an insider (within NYPD) and an outsider,” given her proximity to the city.
Sewell will become the third Black commissioner in city history, after Ben Ward, who served from 1984 to 1989, and Lee Brown, who served from 1990 to 1992. She is the first commissioner since Brown to lead the NYPD without previous experience in either the department or another city agency.
A formal announcement and press conference are expected in Queens on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Kim.