Just three weeks into her tenure as the first woman to helm the New York City Police Department, Commissioner Keechant Sewell faced an immense tragedy in her new force — the fatal shooting of two police officers in a Harlem ambush.
Her first year on the job was book-ended by attacks on cops when an alleged Islamic extremist came at officers with a machete just blocks from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, leaving three injured.
“As evidenced last night, there are significant dangers in this profession,” Sewell said in a message to the city’s Finest on New Year’s Day. “Be it your first day, or any other, you face the challenges and malevolent forces across this city head on, to prevent the victimization of others.
“This is the legacy of the NYPD,” she continued, “I am honored to serve with each of you and am truly grateful that our officers will recover.”
Praised by Mayor Eric Adams for her “emotional intelligence” when hired, the media-shy commissioner has given few interviews — even hurrying away from a Post reporter at an event earlier this year — and rarely strayed off script in public.
But Sewell’s impassioned speech at Harlem Hospital, and her turning down questions from the press there late on the evening of Jan. 21, 2021 — when a domestic violence suspect shot Officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora — gained her some early respect among the rank-and-file.
Cops felt some optimism that the outsider from Nassau County would address numerous long-standing issues in the department — but low morale among the force has been one among several challenges the new commissioner has had to face since taking office.
While the Big Apple has seen a dip in murders in 2022, the NYPD has struggled to stem soaring crime — including major felonies such as robberies and assaults — and grappled with a spate of heinous, high-profile subway attacks.
The NYPD refused to make the police commissioner available for an interview with The Post it could select the reporter, and did not comment.
In 2022, Adams and his Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Phil Banks directed Sewell’s police administration to focus on the unprecedented surge in gun violence.
This lead to the rollout of rebranded anti-crime teams, dubbed Neighborhood Safety Teams, which fulfilled a campaign promise of Adams, as well as a redeployment of desk cops across the city.
While police brass have been unable to qualify the effect those teams have had on the violence, Sewell and her team oversaw a 17% drop in shootings and a corresponding 13% dip in murders, as of last week.
That figure still remains a far cry from the pre-pandemic levels in the city — and all other major felonies aside from homicide were up on the year. Overall index crime — meaning those against a person or property — was up nearly 23% as of last week.
Police have another grim trend to overcome: one in 10 of gun violence victims in 2022 were children. New York City’s youth has increasingly fallen prey to wild shootouts or have been targeted over an argument.
The department and mayor’s public safety team also have yet to lay out a plan to combat the wave of retail theft in the city. Adams recently held a summit with dozens of business leaders and crime fighters to brainstorm a plan.
Sewell and Adams have both pointed to crime trends pointing down over the last two months as signs of progress on city streets and in the subway system.
Meanwhile, unlike her predecessors — who were eager to speak in front of the cameras — Sewell has opted to work more behind the scenes in the department.
She has taken a back seat to the mayor, who has been front-and-center at most large public safety announcements, most notably when Adams unveiled the Neighborhood Safety Teams, and his mental health plan for homelessness.
Police sources said the commissioner even went off the grid ahead of one press conference she had been slated to attend this year, forcing her first deputy to step in at the last minute.
Sewell has appeared at just as many breaking news events as her immediate predecessor Dermot Shea during each of their first year on the job.
But Shea — — who assumed the position in 2019 under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio — also sat for 79 interviews with reporters, while Sewell has only done nine, according to their schedules and press clippings.
Still, the new commish’s scaled-back public schedule has earned her points with the rank-and-file.
“She seems more genuine than her predecessor, and diversifying the executives by replacing the old mentality chiefs that can’t adapt to the changes in time,” a police source said.
Another police officer, with more than 20 years on the job, said the commissioner seemed to be making improvements in the department.
“It’s the job, the way the job hammers everyone,” the cops said of morale among the force. Speaking to people, they kind of like her.”
Others believe little has changed, with surging overtime and favoritism continuing to go unchecked in the new administration.
“Not much teeth there in her administration,” a police source said.
Another source griped the mayor is at fault.
“He promised too much and he can’t deliver… ask any cop.”
Some officers, who saw the former Nassau County Police Department chief of detectives as a carpetbagger when she first stepped into the role, have since changed their tune — and praised Sewell for telling cops she would amend the disciplinary guidelines.
“People are saying it had to be changed because it was overkill,” said one source of the NYPD’s discipline matrix, which lays out penalties for misconduct by officers and was developed with the help of advocacy groups and the public.
A month after Sewell was appointed as head of the nation’s largest police department, Adams tapped scandal-scarred former NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks to the role of Deputy Mayor of Public Safety.
Insiders opined the move meant Banks was the man behind the curtain at the NYPD.
At the start, Banks often side-stepped the commissioner to speak with three-star chiefs and influenced a series of internal moves — including personally firing the head of Internal Affairs Joseph Reznick, police sources said.
Since then, rumors have circulated in the department of ongoing power struggle at One Police Plaza.
“The word is she fights with Banks on a lot of things,” one source, the Brooklyn cop with more than 20 years on the job, said.
But Sewell seemed to be pushing back against the male-dominated power structure — including when she delivered a fiery and well-received speech to the Policewomen’s Endowment Association in November.
“Understand that you will be second-guessed, told what you should say, told what you should write by some with half your experience,” she said.
“They don’t know any better.”
Police sources said that in recent months however, a new faction in police leadership has emerged following the appointment of Jeff Madrey — a longtime friend of the mayor’s — as chief of department.
Soon after, the NYPD saw a major shakeup change in leadership, including some of those appointed not being the commissioner’s first pick, police sources said.
“It’s commendable that [he’s] loyal to his friends,” one source said of the mayor, “but on some things he should just be like, ‘Yo, bro, fall back and let her do her thing. Mind your business.’”
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