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Keechant Sewell Named NYPD's First Female Commissioner; Adams: It 'Sends Powerful Message To Girls And Young Women'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor-elect Eric Adams' nationwide search for a police commissioner ended in his own backyard.

He selected the 49-year-old chief of detectives of the Nassau County Police Department to be the first woman to lead the NYPD in its 175-year history, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday.

Even before he found the top cop of his dreams, Adams told Kramer it had to be a person with what he called "emotional intelligence." He said he found it in Keechant Sewell, who grew up in the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.

"Chief Sewell's appointment today is a powerful message to girls and young women across the city. There is no ceiling to your ambitions," Adams said.

"We are at a pivotal moment in New York. As our city faces the twin challenges of public safety and police accountability, they are not mutually exclusive," Sewell said.

Watch: Mayor-Elect Adams Names New NYPD Commissioner

Even before he was elected mayor, Adams promised to name a woman of color to lead the largest police force in the country, and he was grinning from ear to ear as he introduced Sewell as the woman he will partner with to restore public safety, something he calls a prerequisite to the city's prosperity.

He called her "the personification of emotional intelligence."

"I think my perspective is different. I bring a fresh set of eyes. We keep using the phrase 'emotional intelligence,' but I think sometimes the first thing people say is, 'Women are a little sensitive.' I think sensitivity is a strength," Sewell said.

That emotional intelligence aspect was so important to Adams, as part of the grueling multi-layered interview process the mayor-elect and his team made Sewell and all of the candidates participate in a mock press conference about the shooting of an apparently unarmed Black man by a white police officer.

He said the test was an important one.

"We wanted to get under her skin. We wanted to ask her difficult questions. We wanted to see if she would be shaken. We wanted to see how do you deal with being under the big lights of New York City," Adams said. "When you have a terrorist attack, when you have a shooting, when you have riots in the streets, when you have protests, when you have disruption, the people of the city, they look toward the police commissioner to say are we going to be all right?"

So why did Sewell rise above all the other candidates from across the nation?

"She started out her response that it was a tragedy to lose a young person. She showed that compassion. Others went into the technical aspects of policing," Adams said.

"If I wanted someone to just keep doing what we've always done, I would have picked some of the leading police heads throughout the country so they can do what we've always done. I needed a visionary. I needed someone that was ready to transform our department. ... This is a real winner. We have a real winner," Adams added.

In accepting the job, Sewell made it clear that she was aware of the important message her selection was sending.

"I stand here today because a man boldly and unapologetically made a decision well before his monumental and successful election, a decision that gave women in policing across this country an opportunity, not a favor, but a chance to work with him," Sewell said.

Watch: Marcia Kramer's 6 p.m. Report On Incoming NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell

Sewell's rise through the Nassau County Police Department shows she is not afraid to tackle hot-button issues.

Kramer asked her about a controversial program that dates back to the years of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"I'm wondering how you feel about something, quality-of-life crimes, and whether you think those crimes, 'broken windows' crimes should be enforced in the city as a way to bring the city back into prosperity," Kramer said.

"I do. I think lower-level crimes have to be enforced when it's appropriate, when they can be balanced with the needs of the public and the needs of the community," Sewell said.

She also said she supported strengthening the bail reform laws that have too often seen people committing crimes back on the street the same day they're arrested.

"I think judges have to have the discretion to be able to keep dangerous people off the street, but it's really about a balance, right? We have to be able to balance what's important for the community and what's safe for the community," Sewell said.

Outgoing Police Commissioner Dermot Shea welcomed his successor, saying he believes the men and women in blue will be in good hands with her at the helm.

Sources told CBS2 Sewell, who will be the department's 45th commissioner, will report directly to Adams, who has made restoring public safety his top priority.

Adams has already pledged to bring back the undercover plainclothes unit that was disbanded by Shea during the Black Lives Matter protests. He also said he wants to bring back beat cops.

Residents in Sewell's Queensbridge community said they are thrilled she got the job.

"It's so important that she sets a platform for young women of color to understand they can rise to the top, it's nothing stopping us, and the fact that she has compassion, it's just extremely important because we need that in our community," Stephanie Chauncey said.

"That's a good thing. It shows that's a definite sign of advancement, as far as the Black community and as far as women are concerned, because women have been overshadowed for centuries and it's time that they get the just respect they deserve," Noel Merritt added.

CBS2's John Dias contributed to this report.

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