In a historic moment of representation for both Black women and the people of New York City as a whole, Long Island police official and Queens, New York native Keechant Sewell has been named by New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams as the city’s next police commissioner. She will become just the third Black person and the first woman ever to lead the nation’s largest police force.
Michelle L. Price of the Associated Press reported that “Adams, himself a former New York police captain, introduced Sewell on Wednesday, Dec. 15, as his barrier-breaking choice for one of the most high-profile and powerful jobs in his upcoming administration.”
In a news conference held in Queens, New York, Adams said Sewell was “the woman for the job. She carried a sledgehammer throughout her career and crushed every glass ceiling put in her way. Today, she has crashed and destroyed the final one we need in New York City.”
According to Price, “Sewell, who serves as the Nassau County Police Chief of Detectives, will be the third Black person to serve as New York Police Department commissioner. The 49-year-old will replace Dermot Shea, who is retiring from the NYPD after 30 years, having spent the last two as commissioner.”
Sewell’s role as NYPD Commissioner will begin when Adams takes office on Jan. 1. Her appointment fulfills one of Adams’ most frequent promises made during his mayoral campaign: to hire a female police commissioner. Adams said he selected Sewell for the incredibly high-profile job because of her “emotional intelligence” and her “calm, collected, confident” presence.
It has been more than 20 years since a person of color last led the NYPD. Benjamin Ward and Lee Brown both held the position previously in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
Sewell started with the Nassau County police department as a patrol officer in 1997 and “worked her way up the ranks to become a precinct commander, to head the department’s bureau of major cases and to serve as the chief hostage negotiator,” Price said. In her new role as New York City Police Chief, Sewell noted that she would be “laser-focused on violent crime,” especially those involving guns.
“We are in a pivotal moment in New York as our city faces the twin challenges of public safety and police accountability. They are not mutually exclusive,” Sewell said.
In her previous role as Nassau’s Chief of Detectives, which she assumed in September 2020, Sewell oversaw a staff of approximately 350. Her new role is significantly larger, with the NYPD currently employing an estimated 35,000 officers. Current NYPD records report that the city’s police force is 45% white, 30% Hispanic, 15% Black and 10% Asian.
“I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement as the first woman and only the third Black person to lead the NYPD in its 176-year history,” Sewell said. “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.”