Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced his choice for New York City’s next police commissioner Wednesday morning. Adams named Nassau County Police Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell, 49, as the incoming police commissioner. She will be the first Black woman to hold the role in the history of the NYPD.

“I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement,” said Sewell at the press conference. “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.”

Sewell is a Queens native, and the third Black person to run the NYPD, reported the Associated Press. Former commissioners Benjamin Ward and Lee Brown served in the 1980s and 1990s before her, said the AP. Meanwhile, Rodney Harrison, the NYPD’s first Black chief of detectives, is reportedly headed out to Long Island in an interesting switch. Harrison recently retired as chief and will be nominated to be the next commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, said NBC New York.

Sewell has had national attention and a warm reception from locals so far.

Erica Ford co-founded the violence interrupter organization LIFE Camp Inc. Ford said that the appointment of Sewell is a good sign and that the city needs a “shifting” to focus on the youth from a place of compassion. “I look forward to working strongly with them to make sure that we can once again make New York City the safest big city as well as decrease the number of shootings and decrease the number of young people being arrested and put through the system.” 

In her interactions with Sewell, Ford said that Sewell was quick to respond, investigate, and lend support. She called Sewell a “woman of her word.”

“This is an awesome opportunity to have a Black woman lead the largest police department in the country,” said Chief Kim Royster, a 37-year NYPD veteran and current chief of Transportation.

Serena Martin-Liguori, executive director of the LI-based New Hour for Women & Children organization, was excited at the prospect of having a Long Islander and woman of color take the reins as police commissioner. Martin-Liguori’s organization prioritizes gender justice for women and is hopeful that will be a factor in Sewell’s plans for the city. 

“For us at New Hour, we’re dedicated to empowering women and women impacted by the carceral system. We applaud her appointment and hope that she’ll champion issues that are near and dear to our heart, which is women who are survivors of abuse and women who have survived violence,” said Martin-Liguori. “We’re hopeful.” 

Sewell said at the conference that the city’s police department is at a pivotal moment, facing the dual challenges of public safety and police accountability. She plans on carrying out Adams’ vision of breaking down barriers between police and community, focusing on violent crime and gun violence, and making decisions with good judgement and “emotional intelligence.” 

She also said that anti-crime and plainclothes units work, but understands the concerns about the reinstatement of ‘stop and frisk.’ Historically these police tactics have targeted Black and Brown communities and were disbanded under Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2020. Stop and frisk specifically fell out of favor in the early 2000s when it was found to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.

“You have to make sure you get the right people with the right temperament with emotional intelligence that can serve communities,” said Sewell when asked about anti-crime units. Adams chimed in at the conference that they will successfully use the tools and not abuse them.

Not everyone is as optimistic as Adams and Sewell though.

Josmar Trujillo, a vocal anti-police brutality activist, said that Sewell’s support for “broken windows policing” acts as a “shield” for Adams to insert himself into policing matters more than most, if not all, mayors of the past. “Broken Windows policing—a debunked and nakedly racist policing theory—indicates she intends to keep us stuck in a time loop as far as public safety goes.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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