On The Street

A Tale of Two Police Officers: Part One

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Frank Hrotko and Jeffrey Muendel present two very different sides of what it’s like to be a local police officer in Westchester County. In this column, we’ll look at Hrotko’s experiences. Two weeks from now, we’ll learn about Muendel’s.

By Michael Gold

Frank Hrotko, a Sleepy Hollow police veteran for 39 years, described village policing in Westchester County like this: “It’s more about helping people.” Of course, he said, “you’ve got to be on guard. Something can always happen.”

Hrotko, a Marine veteran who lost his race last November for Mount Pleasant supervisor, retired four years ago as a lieutenant. He described the biggest policing issues in the village as “traffic and double-parking complaints, noise complaints, loud music, barking dogs, graffiti tags on the walls at the train station, quality-of-life issues.”

In meeting me at the Pleasantville Diner recently, Hrotko talked about the challenges a police officer faces in Westchester.

“There are three big apartment buildings in Sleepy Hollow. In the summer, people are congregating. You could have 10 to 15 people out front, playing music. Sometimes alcohol is involved. We get noise complaints.”

Hrotko was transferred from street patrol to an administrative post for the last 12 years of his service. In that job, he was often asked to help residents apply for citizenship or a job.

Sleepy Hollow has “the highest concentration of Hispanics in Westchester County,” he said. “I helped hundreds get their citizenship,” by writing good conduct letters for them. The Sleepy Hollow police would look at their digital records to make sure the person was law-abiding. Then he would write the letter for the resident. He also provided this service for residents applying for jobs, assuring employers “the person was good.”

One of the worst cases he had to investigate occurred one night in 2018, a stabbing in Barnhardt Park.

“Two kids were fighting,” he said. They were among a “bunch of teens hanging out. One guy pulled out a knife. The victim was 18. One stabbed the other. The officers tried to save the kid. The kid died right in front of me. The guys were working to keep him alive. He was stabbed in the heart.

“The suspect had left the scene. The county police, who were called in, traced the suspect’s phone. The county police have the technology and expertise to track cases. They found him in a Yonkers apartment.” He was 16 years old.

The victim’s mother “was unbelievable,” Hrotko explained. “The guy got 12 years, because the mother asked for mercy.”

Hrotko recalled two cases where he could have used his weapon. One was a domestic case.

“The guy had a knife. I aimed the gun at him, and he dropped the knife,” he said.

In the second case, a burglar broke into a house. A girl living in the place hid under a bed.

“The girl dialed 911.”

When Hrotko arrived, “the guy had a knife. I drew my weapon and he dropped the knife,” he said. “Things just go real quick, too fast to be scared. That’s when the training kicks in.”

When the General Motors factory was operating in North Tarrytown, Hrotko spent time breaking up bar fights. At the time, there were about 27 bars in the area, he said. I asked him how the crowd reacted.

“When the police show up, people stop fighting,” Hrotko said.

Now, “No GM, no bars, no bar fights.”

When I asked him what it takes to be a good police officer, he explained, “You can’t talk down to people. You explain, this is what will happen if you do this. You’ve got to have common sense.”

Hrotko discussed how policing has changed over the decades.

“I didn’t deal with the fentanyl problem. In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, it was heroin. With marijuana, they’d bring guys in with a couple of joints, and they’d go to county jail.

“Fentanyl is spiced in with other drugs. The kids don’t know what they’re getting. There are so many overdoses.”

Another factor that’s changed is the presence of cameras.

“Cameras are everywhere. You didn’t have that then. We had burglaries all over the place in the ‘80s. The cameras make it easier to solve the case. Communications is so much better now, with the internet,” Hrotko said.

Another big change is the composition of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department.

At one time, all 30 officers were white, said Hrotko, whose son is a police lieutenant in New Castle, continuing the family legacy of public service work.

“Now the majority of officers are minority, with four women. The department now reflects the community. This is a good thing.”

Hrotko, who grew up in Sleepy Hollow, said, “I loved the job.”.

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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