NEW YORK (AP) – New York City’s new mayor says he chose Keechant Sewell as the city’s first female police commissioner in part because of her poise in handling a simulated crisis that threw her into the interview process. .
Within hours of his January 1 swearing-in, Sewell faced a real one: an officer shot outside a police station while sleeping in his car between shifts.
“It was a dizzying weekend, quite busy,” Sewell, 49, told The Associated Press in one of his first interviews as the leader of the nation’s largest police force, a department dealing with a recent spike in violent crime and the continuing consequences of a reckoning on the police misconduct.
Sewell rushed to the hospital where Officer Keith Wagenhauser was in surgery to remove bullet fragments from his head. He told reporters that the officer was lucky to be alive. In the simulated scenario a few weeks earlier, he had been asked to give a press conference about a hypothetical police shooting.
Introducing Sewell as his choice last month, Mayor Eric Adams said the former Long Island police officer was “Calm, serene, confident” and had the “The emotional intelligence needed to lead in this challenging and hopeful time in our city.”
“I believe that leadership prepares you to be able to tackle anything that comes your way,” Sewell told the AP. “I look forward to what I can learn from the NYPD and to contribute what I already have.”
Sewell’s baptism of fire continued with a briefing Monday at police headquarters on a planned gang takedown the next day, the first major arrest operation of his tenure, and a press conference Tuesday with Adams and the Brooklyn district attorney.
Today, she and Adams got back together, joining Governor Kathy Hochul to discuss the possibility of putting more cops on the subway. Adams, a former police captain, has paid close attention to his old department in his first week on the job, accompanying Sewell to events and addressing officers one morning at roll call.
Sewell spent his entire policing career in the Nassau County suburbs before becoming the first outside leader of the NYPD in more than two decades. He is also the third black person to head the department. Sewell said it brings “A new perspective” to work, while acknowledging the “Incredible sense of tradition.”
Sewell said he spent the weeks leading up to his swearing-in talking to everyone from street officers to former senior officials. He also named two NYPD veterans as his top deputies: Edward Caban, the new Deputy First Commissioner, and Kenneth Corey, the new department head.
Sitting in the Theodore Roosevelt room of the NYPD, with a bust of the former president and police commissioner to her right and portraits of him on the walls, Sewell spoke about her priorities and the challenges of policing a city of 8.8 million people.
“First of all, I want the city to be safer.” Sewell said. “I want there to be a better quality of life. I want the police department to collaborate with the community, because they are part of the community ”.
Sewell started with the Nassau County Police Department as a patrol officer in 1997, then went on to become a district commander, head of major cases, high-level hostage negotiator, and finally chief of detectives, where she oversaw a staff of approximately 350 , about 1 percent of the size. from the non-formed ranks of the NYPD.
Adams promised during her campaign to hire a commissioner, and hiring Sewell placed her at the top of a list of notable women in the police force that includes Philadelphia Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and former Seattle Chief Carmen Best. Said Sewell “He carried a mallet with him throughout his career and smashed every glass ceiling that got in his way.”
As Sewell was being briefed on Monday about the gang takedown, a task force mounted her portrait with her predecessors on a wall near her office at police headquarters. A passing woman commented that the addition was “It will come a long time.”
Like the men who came before her, Sewell’s success will largely be measured in crime statistics and whether she can curb the rise in gun violence and homicides in the era of the pandemic.
After hitting a low of 292 homicides in 2017, the city reached 468 in 2020 and more than 480 last year, the highest number since 2011.
This week, Sewell backed Adams’s plan to reestablish a plainclothes crime unit that was disbanded amid protests of police misconduct in 2020 over concerns that it accounted for a disproportionate number of shootings and complaints. Sewell said the unit will be more responsible and better behaved this time, a guarantee critics view with skepticism.
Mark Winston Griffith of Communities United for Police Reform said Sewell should leave “Failed Police Strategies of the Past”. He said the new commissioner should also commit to firing police officers who “Abuse, harass, brutalize and kill” and promote transparency by publishing more disciplinary records.
“Fair policing and responsible policing are not mutually exclusive of public safety.” Sewell told the AP. “When you have people who have the temperament, the desire, and the training to do these kinds of things, you get the results you want. But the community must be part of that, and they must understand what our role is and what we intend to do to make them safer. “