New York

Who’s the boss? Questions about Juanita Holmes, Keechant Sewell and the NYPD chain of command


The most salient fact about public safety in New York is that murders are down 19% over this point last year; rapes are down 13.5%; shootings are down 21%; and transit crime is down 21.5%. Felony assaults, an outlier, are up 10.5%. If the positive trends accelerate, that’s basically the whole ballgame.

But there’s a locker-room sideshow that’s distracting from Team Adams’ on-the-field performance: NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell has seen some lines of authority twisted into knots.

Mayor Eric Adams announces the appointment of Juanita Holmes as commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation at City Hall on Friday, March 10, 2023.

Let’s be clear: Eric Adams, former police captain and current elected mayor, is ultimately in charge of the department, just as he’s in charge of sanitation, education, parks and so on. Adams picked the commissioner he wanted — who serves at his pleasure. Adams also named Phil Banks as deputy mayor for public safety, which was his prerogative. Banks is supposed to oversee the wide range of strategies and agencies, while Sewell is supposed to run the NYPD.

Why, then, did NYPD Chief of Training Juanita Holmes feel she could go over Sewell’s head to get Adams to back a change to the department’s physical training prerequisites? Holmes — who already last year made fitness tests for recruits substantially easier — pushed to kill a requirement that recruits must complete a 1½-mile run in a set time. Sewell, who saw the change as an unacceptable lowering of standards, said no — but Holmes went to City Hall and got Adams to bigfoot her boss.

Since the fracas understandably introduced tension and confusion in the PD’s upper ranks, Holmes just got kicked upstairs to run the city’s Probation Department.

That’s not all. Our crosstown competitor reported that Sewell “hosted a smaller, private sit-down with reporters on crime stats” at the very same time Banks was doing one of his new weekly public briefings on the very same topic. Left hand, meet right hand.

Personality conflicts happen. Disagreements between mayors and commissioners happen. But such inevitable friction should never undercut the authority of department leaders to do their jobs. Untangle the chain of command.


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