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U.S. Sets record for Hurricane-Force Winds; Keechant Sewell is Interviewed about Becoming the NYPD Commissioner; Sara Nelson is Interviewed about Covid and Flying. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 16, 2021 - 09:30   ET



LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To stop that trajectory.

Guys, back to you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just remarkable weather events seemingly every day.

Lucy Kafanov, thanks so much.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and wild to think that it was 75 where Lucy is yesterday.

Chad Myers, CNN meteorologist, joining us now with more on this. I mean these intense shifts that we've seen and the storms. The storm prediction center calling these storms unprecedented. The concern is that they become more common, right?

So, walk us through what we're seeing, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What we had is the jet stream in the right place for almost a spring type storm. We had a very warm Gulf of Mexico. And you want to talk about climate change or global warming, the Gulf of Mexico is very warm. That adds humidity to the air that was pushed up to the north. So, if you want to add something in there, would this have happened anyway? Maybe, yes. But because we did have all this warm air and warm water making humidity, that's why these storms have been so big. Bigger than they should be anytime of year really for that matter.

Seventy-seven in Wichita. Here's Galveston, Texas, 79. Look at this number, Des Moines was 74 yesterday. Your old record was 59.

HILL: Wow.

MYERS: So here's what we have, two things. The wind event out west. Here's Kansas. The wind event out west. This has never happened in December ever in this area before.

Here's the moderate risk, level four or five, severe weather across parts of Iowa, Minnesota. This has never happened before in December. Not that it's never happened, it certainly has, but in the spring, when it's supposed to happen. The irony is here, the problem is, it is December. That's why it's very hard to put your mind around how this happened here.

Even back out to the west, you can see some of those streaks. Those streaks were actually smoke from fires.

Lamar, Colorado, 107-mile-per-hour wind yesterday in an automatic (ph) session (ph). Look at this, tornadoes, 20. We have had over 100 tornadoes in December so far with these few storms we've had. The normal number, or the average number, is 23. Severe wind, more severe wind yesterday than we've ever seen in any one day, over 75 miles per hour, there were 55 reports.

So here's La Nina. Talk about global warming. But we also talk about La Nina because this is adding another 10 or 20 percent. The jet stream is coming down and it's turning like this. This is normal, what happens in La Nina. What also happens? An increase in tornado activity right where we'd expect it, just this is -- you look farther north than what we'd expected anyway.


HILL: Wow.

Chad, appreciate it. Certainly gives you pause.


An historic appointment. A woman will now lead the New York Police Department for the first time in its history. The incoming commissioner, Keechant Sewell, she's going to join us live, and there she is, coming right up.



SCIUTTO: A monumental moment for New York City is Keechant Sewell becomes the first woman appointed NYPD commissioner in the department's 176-year history. It is a critical appointment at a critical time from the mayor-elect, Eric Adams, who ran on a platform of combatting rising crime in the city. Sewell will take over a department struggling to tamp down a startling rise in gun violence and murder. So far this year there have been 443 murders in New York City, surpassing last year's total, a 45 percent increase from just two years ago.

So, joining me now live, the next commissioner of the NYPD, Keechant Sewell.

Congratulations on your appointment. This is truly a historic moment for New York, my hometown.

KEECHANT SEWELL, INCOMING NYPD COMMISSIONER: Thank you. I appreciate it more than you know. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. SCIUTTO: As you know, violent crime is up across the city. People are

scared. New Yorkers are scared by what they see there. You said earlier this morning, you're going to put initiatives in place very quickly to address this rise in crime.

Can you be specific? On day one, what kind of steps will you take to address the rise in crime?

SEWELL: The first thing we'd like to do -- I keep saying we're going to do an assessment. And I hope to be able to do that before January 1st. I want to know what works in the NYPD already and what we can change. We have to stop the guns that are flowing into the city. That's priority number one. We have to actually -- the people who are bringing these guns in, the gangs that are operating and profiting from these guns coming in, we have to be able to address that as well. So the moment I have an idea what's going on, I'll be able to say with a little bit more specificity exactly what we're going to try to do on day one, because that is where we are laser focused is getting the violence to stop in New York City.

SCIUTTO: One step to do that, to address gun violence in particular, is the idea of bringing back this plain clothes anti-gun unit, 600 people. When I have been out on ride alongs with NYPD cops this summer, they speak about guns, they speak about this iron pipeline of guns into the city from southern states with more lax gun laws.

I wonder, in addition to steps like that, can you -- can police in a city like New York fight gun crime without stricter gun laws?

SEWELL: I think we can fight gun crime. You mentioned the anti-crime unit. We're actually going to try to retool that to be an anti-gun unit. And I understand that we need to put the right people in those positions. We need to have them well trained. We need to have the right temperament to tackle these problems. But I certainly believe that we certainly can stop the flow of guns.

I know police officers are scared about doing their jobs. I want them to know that I have their backs. We have the support of the communities to get these guns off the street.


We have to stop the violence. That is priority. That is day one.

SCIUTTO: You've said this a number of times, you want to have your fellow officers' backs here. And we hear this a lot from them. They're worried about the risks they take, possibly losing their career from doing the job. Police morale is down. You have a lot of folks leaving the force.

Can you describe, and there might be officers watching right now, what specifically will you do to have their backs?

SEWELL: I want them to know that if they are doing their jobs, the way that they have been trained to do them, we will support them. I will always have the backs of my officers, 100 percent. We want the community to have the backs of the officers as well. We have to get them to talk to the community so we can build that morale and let them know that they are doing the work that we asked them to do. I will support them 100 percent when they are doing the job that they are supposed to do, that they are trained to do, that we've asked them to do.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

OK, bail reform has been an issue that your predecessor, Dermott Shay, often talked about the state bail reform system. And, by the way, officers on the beat as well saying that they see repeat offenders released back onto the streets, often hours after they were picked up for something else.

What changes in law in the state of New York do you believe you need to see to help address that problem?

SEWELL: I think we have to talk about there being a balance. Judges need to have the discretion to be able to determine who is a danger to society and when and if they can release that person very quickly. That balance has to be something that we discuss in the way that it shouldn't be that you stay in jail simply because you don't have the money to get yourself out. If we can give the judges the discretion to do that, I think we'd be a lot better off. And that's -- that's at least a first step.

SCIUTTO: You're going to be taking over at the time of yet another wave in the pandemic here as omicron works its way through the country. The NYPD, as you know, has a vaccine requirement. Mayor-Elect Adams did say during the campaign that he was going to at least revisit that decision, that requirement.

Do you believe the vaccine mandate should stay in place for officers?

SEWELL: I support that the officers are vaccinated. I will leave that decision to the mayor and we will follow whatever he decides we should do.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that boosters, given what we know about what's necessary to protect people from omicron, do you think boosters should become a requirement for serving officers?

SEWELL: I'm going to leave that to the politicians.


SEWELL: Whatever they ask us to do, and whatever the mandate is, we're going to follow.

SCIUTTO: OK. Let's talk about you for a moment.

This is truly historic. We heard that word a lot, but it's 176 years of the NYPD. You're the first woman, the first black woman to lead the force. You're someone who reflects the city of New York.

I wonder if you could describe the moment when Mayor-Elect Adams told you, you have the job, when he reached out to you.

SEWELL: I wasn't sure I heard him correctly first. It was actually pretty exhilarating. I know that I can do this job. I am thrilled that he believed in me to be able to give me this opportunity to do this job. But when he told me that, I actually felt phenomenal because I said now I'm part of his team and we can get started immediately.

SCIUTTO: Adams has spoken about, as you just did there, about a balance. Tough on crime, but working with the community, including working with community groups to help address the many causes of rising crime in the city.

How does having someone like you in leadership, as I said, someone who reflects the city of New York, make a positive difference in achieving that balance?

SEWELL: Mayor-Elect Adams speaks oftentimes about emotional intelligence. And I think when you have a person who can connect with a community or connect with the police as well, because the police are the community, right, policing is about people. When you have someone who can dig in and find out what is the underlying emotion that people are feeling or what is happening in that community and make that connection, I think that's the way you build bridges and I think that's the way you should police.

SCIUTTO: But before we go, I want to ask you, this is a big position at a difficult time for New York. You know New York. You're a Queens girl. You've been on the force for a generation. And you know that folks today, they're scared about the direction of the city. Folks I know who won't ride the subway, right, they're worried about the threat.

Can you give them some confidence, some hope that there is a solution here in the near term to make the city safer?

SEWELL: Absolutely. Hope is wonderful to have. And we want everyone to have hope. But hope has to be married with action. And I want to assure them that we have initiatives that we're going to implement, and we have the drive and the determination to turn this around very quickly. So, I appreciate the hope and please keep that hope, but we're coming and we're going to make things better.

SCIUTTO: Keechant Sewell, I love New York. I'm a New Yorker. But I know a lot of non-New Yorkers who love New York as well.

Congratulations on your position and we wish you and the officers the best of luck.

SEWELL: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. Happy holidays to you.

SCIUTTO: You too.

HILL: Still ahead here, masks still a major point of contention as airlines prepare for a busy couple of weeks around the holidays.


Now two airline CEOs say they actually support dropping a mask mandate. We'll ask the head of the Flight Attendants Union how she feels about that suggestion, next.


HILL: Violence on airplanes is at an all-time high. As of Tuesday, the FAA says there have been more than 5,600 reports of unruly passengers this year alone. The agency usually investigates fewer than 200 incidents a year. Look at that sharp increase on your screen.

Yesterday, at a Senate oversight hearing, which had a significant focus on the $54 billion in pandemic payroll support for the airline industry, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, testified about that increase in violence and its impact.



SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: We are not a bailout. But lately we have been punching bags. Flight attendants and aviation workers are saying, please make it stop.


HILL: Sara Nelson joining us now.

Sara, good to see you again this morning.

You know, so much of that violence, as you know all too well, is related to masks, which made it, I thought, even more interesting that yesterday two of the CEOs who were there testifying questioned the continuing need for masks on planes.

I want to play that moment for folks at home.

We may not have that sound, but the CEO of Southwest, Gary Kelly, saying, I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment, saying it's very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.

The former surgeon general was on CNN this morning and called those comments, quote, irresponsible and reckless.

Where do you stand?

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: I said in the hearing those comments were not helpful at all. And I do want to correct the record here because Gary Kelly came over to me after the hearing and said he was absolutely with me on the fact that our layered approach to safety and security is what's necessary to keep people safe on the planes. So the filtration that's on the plane, the HEPA filtration, the air filtration, with the masks, with the deep cleaning is all that -- all of those things together keep people safe on a plane and in a controlled environment.

And Doug Parker did not hear what was happening. He has put a statement out on the record saying that he was responding to the HEPA filtration. He was not responding to the masks.

So the biggest problem for flight attendants is that when there is inconsistency in communication, that puts us in harm's way because we are charged with enforcing that mask mandate. So those two CEOs corrected the record with me. Doug Parker on the record for the whole public. I want to be very clear that the airline industry, from the very beginning, has worked with us to put mask policies in place even before the federal government put that in place, and they continue to support that and support the flight attendants.

HILL: So you make a good point, though, about messaging, which has been an issue from day one of this pandemic on nearly every level, whether we're talking about, whether it be masking or even just the reality that this is an evolving science. That's the way science works. So, looking at that, right, and just the need for clarification this morning, based on comments from yesterday, as you point out, that makes your job harder.

I was really struck by something in your testimony, when you noted that flight attendants wonder every morning, when they put on their uniform, whether it will be a sign of leadership and authority or a target for a violent attack. This may sound like a flippant question. It's not. What is wrong with people? What is your assessment in terms of what has changed in the way that flight attendants and aviation employees are being treated when they were simply asking people to follow a federal rule?

NELSON: The biggest problem that we have in this country is that people don't know what to believe. And there have been two different narratives about this pandemic from the very beginning, and that continues. And when you keep people in that state of not knowing what to believe, their anxiety goes through the roof. We see this as flight attendants. I can relate it in a very simple analogy, which is, when there is a delayed flight and we give regular updates to people, even when that flight is severely delayed, they leave smiling and thanking you. When you don't, they become agitated, angry, and sometimes there's outbursts. So you have to be clear with people about what the truth is and then they make good decisions and they calm down.

HILL: In terms of calming down and making good decisions, I know you also made the point that you think alcohol really has a role to play here. And you would like to see better regulation of alcohol consumption on board and even in the gate area.

Would you like to see a stop to alcohol sales in the airport? Would that help?

NELSON: Well, look, we have a big problem here because we have low- hanging fruit that we should be able to get to. Airports are pushing to go alcohol. So, before we even get to talking about whether or not we should stopping serving alcohol in the airport, and alcohol is a major contributor here, let's just stop pushing alcohol on people right up to the moment that they board that plane and giving them the idea that they can actually carry that alcohol onto the plane, which is a violation of federal regulations. People can be denied boarding, but we are at low staffing, we're not able to see those things every time, and when people have that alcohol and then they go up in the air and the cabin is pressurized at 8,000 feet and they have less oxygen coming in, they -- that affects them more and they make bad decisions and it is a major contributor that is getting our people hurt, and it needs to stop.

HILL: What's your biggest concern going into the holidays? You mentioned staffing. I know staffing is a major concern. There was a lot of upset passengers, right, when flights were delayed even earlier in the fall. What are you most worried about now?

NELSON: Well, look, there's actually more flight attendants per flight hour that -- now than pre-pandemic.


What I'm talking about is that the airlines pre-pandemic put staffing levels down to minimum levels, and that hasn't changed. While we have airplanes full of people who are essentially first-time flyers or infrequent flyers. A lot of questions. Don't really understand. That makes our jobs a lot harder.

We believe that the holidays are going to be OK for the consumer, for the traveler, because we negotiated with the airlines, incentives for people to come to work. Flight attendants have been a little reticent to pick up that overtime, voluntary overtime, because of the conditions at work and the concerns around Covid. But that extra incentive of -- financial incentive is helping them say to their families, no, I'm going to do this because this is going to be good for us. And that's going to support the operation. I think we'll be OK barring any major weather event.

HILL: Sara Nelson, appreciate you joining us this morning. I hope people are a little kinder. Thank you.

NELSON: Thank you so much. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, Dr. Anthony Fauci warns it is a matter of time before the omicron variant overtakes the delta variant of Covid. The impacts from now rising coronavirus infections coming up.