Cops know who real NYPD commissioner is — and it wasn’t Keechant Sewell

The NYPD’s experiment with figurehead leadership came to an abrupt, if entirely foreseeable, end Monday with the resignation of Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

Well, make that Ostensible Commissioner Sewell.

She may have been sitting behind former top-cop Teddy Roosevelt’s famous mahogany desk at One Police Plaza – but calling the important shots for the past 17 months has been a fellow known throughout the NYPD as Unindicted Co-Conspirator Number One.

That would be Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, and former cop, Phil Banks, a long-time Eric Adams confederate who was caught up in an extensive federal investigation of police corruption a decade ago.

Named as a co-conspirator, he resigned from the department in 2014 – but never was charged. Now he runs One Police Plaza, no questions asked.

Doubtless it’ll take time for all the details to leak out – but there clearly was no space for a self-respecting police professional between Mayor Adams and his crony of the moment.

So exit Keechant Sewell – with her dignity, at least, intact.

Why she took the job in the first place is a mystery. People leap at opportunities, for sure, but nobody ever did more than pretend she would have anything approaching autonomy – and Phil Banks’ gamy reputation was no secret, either.

Sewell was the NYPD's first female commissioner.
Sewell was the NYPD’s first female commissioner.
Alec Tabak

Sewell came from the Nassau County PD, a largely suburban agency with just 2,500 officers, to command a department roughly the size of two infantry divisions – daunting under any circumstances. 

Certainly the NYPD’s cultural challenges have never been kind to outsiders, no matter who lives in Gracie Mansion.

Plus the demands of urban policing in a post-George Floyd environment could have defeated any good cop – no matter who.

But it’s the “no matter who” that counts most now.

Who was responsible for what seems to be stabilizing crime rates – particularly homicides?

The NYPD is doing some interesting things – there’s even evidence of a de facto return to the so-called “broken windows” policing that pulled the city back from the abyss the last time.

Was Sewell behind that? Banks? Is Adams’ making good, at long last, on campaign promises to make the city safer?

Most importantly, is that progress sustainable in an ominously anti-policing environment? It sometimes seems that the only folks who care about safe streets are those who must use them – and certainly not those elected to protect them.

It ain’t easy being blue these days. The City Council, with its over-reaching restrictions on the use of reasonable force, has made the job objectively more dangerous. The state Legislature and New York’s progressive prosecutors have put cops squarely in the middle of a public crying out for safety and a criminal-justice establishment that refuses to provide it.

Morale? Forget about it, and no surprise there.

Adams close ally Banks was known to be making the important decisions for the department.
Adams close ally Banks was known to be making the important decisions for the department.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Radical activists are harassing cops in the streets; officers are hamstrung by politicized constraints; the NYPD is losing cops in record numbers to resignation and retirement; recruiting is way down and traditional training standards for those who do join  are evaporating.

The NYPD, in other words, is a world-class – but profoundly troubled — organization.

So recruiting a world-class police commissioner, with Phil Banks hovering in the background, is going to be no easy task. Indeed, given Keechant Sewell’s experience, anybody who wants the job probably won’t be fit for it.

Email: bob@bobmcmanus.nyc

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