Additional reporting by TANDY LAU
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first woman to hold the position, is stepping down after 18 months on the job.
Sewell, who was appointed by Mayor Eric Adams, announced her resignation in an email to department staff Monday afternoon.
“While my time here will come to a close, I will never step away from advocacy and support for the NYPD, and I will always be a champion for the people of New York City,” she wrote.
Adams, a Democrat, confirmed the move in a statement, thanking Sewell for her “steadfast leadership.”
Sewell took over as commissioner when Adams, a former NYPD captain, became mayor in January 2022, having pledged beforehand to name a woman to the post.
During her brief tenure, she oversaw a decrease in some categories of crime—including murders—while contending with several high-profile crises, including the fatal shooting of two officers during her first month on the job. In a statement, Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said her leadership would be “sorely missed.”
“In her short time with the NYPD, Commissioner Sewell made a real impact,” said Lynch. “She took over a police department in crisis and faced tremendous challenges from day one. She cared about the cops on the street and was always open to working with us to improve their lives and working conditions. There are still enormous challenges facing the NYPD.”
“To me, Commissioner Sewell will be remembered for her attention and respect for our community,” added Harlem Assembly Member Inez Dickens. “As the first female to head the NYPD, Commissioner Sewell shattered the glass ceiling and showed us that women, regardless of race, can lead in male dominated spaces. We have more work [to] do, but I am grateful for Commissioner Sewell’s service and wish her the best of luck in her next endeavor.”
Sewell shied from New York’s spotlight, rarely making herself available to the press, even as Adams made crime-fighting a centerpiece of his administration.
She also faced speculation that she was not truly in control of the department, fueled in part by Adams’ decision to appoint a former NYPD chief and key ally, Philip Banks, as a deputy mayor of public safety. Banks has been holding weekly public briefings on crime, often without Sewell in attendance.
The parents of Kawaski Trawick—a 32-year-old Black gay man killed in his home by NYPD officers in 2019—feared Sewell’s resignation would serve as another roadblock for justice.
“By the time she leaves, three commissioners will have come and gone since Kawaski was killed by NYPD Officers Thompson and Davis in 112 seconds after they broke into his home while he was cooking four years ago,” said Ellen and Rickie Trawick. “Each commissioner has aided in well-documented delays, cover-ups, and roadblocks, denying our family any semblance of accountability and endangering New Yorkers by keeping these cops on payroll.”
NYPD commissioners often serve abbreviated tenures in one of the most high-pressure, politically challenging jobs in policing. Sewell’s predecessor, Dermot Shea, held the post for two years. James O’Neill, before Shea, lasted three. Before that, William Bratton spent just over two years as commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The notable exception is former commissioner Raymond Kelly, who served for 16 months under former Mayor David Dinkins, then returned and was commissioner for all 12 years that Michael Bloomberg was mayor.
Sewell started with the Nassau County Police Department as a patrol officer in 1997, then became a precinct commander, head of major cases, a top hostage negotiator and finally chief of detectives, where she oversaw a staff of about 350 people—about 1% the size of the NYPD’s unformed ranks.
In his statement, Adams said Sewell deserved credit for combating crime in New York City.
“The commissioner worked nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a year and a half, and we are all grateful for her service. New Yorkers owe her a debt of gratitude.”
The Adams’ administration has seen a series of high-profile departures in recent weeks, including his top housing official, Jessica Katz, and the city’s efficiency officer, Melanie La Rocca.