Keechant Sewell, the new head of the NYPD, came full circle this week by returning to Queens, the borough of the city where she was born. At a community center located in Queensbridge Houses, the project (social housing complex) that saw it grow, Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced the appointment of the 49-year-old police to the head of the largest department in the country (35,000 agents, in addition to auxiliary and administrative personnel), in the most populated by the United States, almost nine million people.
Sewell, until now Chief of Detectives in Nassau County, New York State, will be the first woman to head a department well known to Adams, who served him for 22 years first as an agent and later as a captain. But it also assumes its reins at a particularly sensitive time, due to the increase in armed violence in its streets – with an especially notorious rebound since the pandemic – and when police action against minorities is scrutinized with a magnifying glass.
Adams explained in the presentation on Wednesday that what convinced him of Sewell during a selection process that lasted a month and which was attended by several candidates, was the “emotional intelligence” with which he solved a simulated exercise: appearing before the media of communication to report the death of an African American at the hands of the police. Too many examples, over the years, make the eventuality on which the test was based turn out to be a statistical probability; also, in recent months, a particularly media case. “We wanted to see if he was moved,” Adams told reporters; “How he dealt with the fact of being suddenly under all the lights of New York … He exudes emotional intelligence, serenity and security.” Sewell passed the test with flying colors, ignoring the administrative account of the alleged events and underlining the loss of a life.
Certainly, a city that exasperates all realities — prices, dimensions, distances, an obscene inequality — is not going to make it easy for you. Any neighborhood police station has more staff than the 350-person team he commanded in Nassau. “[Sewell] he faces applause, but also skepticism, “the New York news portal warned in the headlines. Gothamist, on his lack of experience managing a behemoth like the NYPD after having spent his 25-year career in Nassau.
Sewell defines himself based on his work: he does not have a personal projection stripped of his uniform, nor is a single piece of information known about his existence that is not linked to his police career. If anything, after hearing the mayor-elect recall his connection to Queensbridge Houses, he allowed himself to get a little emotional. “In this city, at this moment, I have come full circle. Queensbridge Houses is part of my story, ”he said. “To all the little girls who get the sound of my voice [les digo]: there is nothing you cannot do, no one you cannot become ”, he added, with a speech very similar to that of Vice President Kamala Harris in the proclamation of the electoral victory, in 2020. A message from pioneers belonging to racial minorities in a world of men.
Sewell has always known how to cope in adverse circumstances. Captaining a department, Nassau, mostly white. Stand out in your promotion to the FBI academy. Forge yourself as a negotiator in hostage-taking cases. Or take charge between 2017 and 2020 of the most unfriendly unit of any security body, Internal Affairs; always under suspicion, by excess or by defect, of own and others. Sewell has also been a patrol officer and a narcotics inspector.
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Safety, or rather insecurity, was one of the main campaign demands of Adams, who will take office, like Sewell, on January 1. The confidence of the population in general, and of minorities in particular, in the department, under suspicion of harboring racist, violent or corrupt agents, does not contribute to facilitating their arrival. Neither does the planned reform from inside that Adams wants to undertake, with the reintroduction of plainclothes agents to combat minor crimes or intercept weapons in circulation – a true epidemic in the city – or by rooting the units in the life of the neighborhoods to reinforce citizen collaboration. Those most critical of the Internal Affairs unit, that kind of court of the devil that gives so much play in the movies, and so tearful in real life, see Sewell’s experience with caution, as it is the most resistant business to the attempts at transparency advocated by those in favor of a more radical police reform than the one proposed by Adams.
A racially diverse apartment at street level awaits Sewell, but still monolithic in the upper ranks, and before which he will also land as a outsider. He will have to move from his current residence, in upstate New York, to the Big Apple, increasingly convulsed by the virus, inflation and insecurity that assails around the corner. But she is not shy about the challenge. “I bring a different perspective to make sure the department resembles the city it serves,” he said Wednesday in his presentation. “To those who don’t believe in me, come and talk to me in a year.”
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