When Mayor-elect Eric Adams recently introduced two veteran law enforcement professionals as additions to his team, he noted that both were coming home to New York City: in Keechant Sewell’s case, from nearby Nassau County, and in Louis Molina’s case, from Las Vegas via New York’s Westchester County. Molina, a Bronx native, will become the first Hispanic man to serve as corrections commissioner, while Sewell, a Queens native, will become the first female commissioner of the New York Police Department in its 176-year history.
Adams had pledged during the Democratic primary that he would name a woman as police commissioner. During her introduction at the Queensbridge Houses, where she grew up, Sewell called her appointment a message to girls that there is nothing that they couldn’t aspire to. She sounded a similar note when named the Nassau County Police Department’s chief of detectives in 2020.
Women compose about 3 percent of the 18,000 police chiefs in the U.S. Other large cities’ police departments have been led by women, including Portland, Oregon, Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Newark, and Philadelphia. While the appointment of a woman to lead the nation’s largest police department is noteworthy, one hopes that Sewell’s selection will end the media hype surrounding the presumed novelty of every female “first” in law enforcement.
It would have been preferable for Adams to promise to find the best commissioner he could before selecting a woman. Sewell’s sex isn’t her only notable attribute, of course. She’ll become the third black police commissioner in city history, after Ben Ward (1984–1989) and Lee Brown (1990–1992). And she will be the first top-level police official without previous experience in either the NYPD or another city agency since William Bratton, another outsider who had been named chief of New York City’s Transit Police in 1990 and was well known both in the city and by police.
The major question surrounding Sewell’s selection is the small number of people she has supervised in the 350-member Nassau County detective squad. That’s a fraction of the 35,000 uniformed members of the NYPD. But no commissioner actually supervises all these people; that’s what those in the dozen ranks between police officer and commissioner are paid to do. And since the NYPD is more than double the size of the second-largest department (Chicago’s), anyone selected—woman or man—would be upping the size of their overall command.
The second concern of critics was that Sewell’s career included non-patrol assignments: the major case squad and the professional standards bureau, which includes internal affairs. But she was also a precinct commanding officer and graduated from the FBI’s National Academy, the finishing school for police executives.
Molina’s appointment didn’t make headlines as Sewell’s did, though those who know him say he doesn’t need media attention to be effective. The former NYPD detective is returning to New York City’s Department of Corrections after holding nonuniformed positions overseeing internal monitoring and compliance from 2016 to 2017. His other recent positions were deputy commissioner of the Westchester County DOC from 2018 to 2020 and chief of the Las Vegas Department of Public Safety. Neither is close in size to the DOC’s 8,500 uniformed officers.
Adams, a retired NYPD captain who was for many years a thorn in the department’s side, understands the agency and the New York criminal justice system far better than did any previous mayor. In both his NYPD and DOC selections, he said, he was looking for people with emotional intelligence—a quality likely to benefit both departments.
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