Mount Kisco officials are considering adding a community resource officer for the village which promises to strengthen relationships among the municipality’s diverse population and improve overall policing.
Overseen by the Westchester County police, which has provided law enforcement coverage for the community since mid-2015, the initiative would be similar to the village’s Police and Community Together program (PACT), which operated when there was still a Mount Kisco force.
The officer would address quality-of-life matters, enhance interaction with residents and be regularly involved in the community, said county police Sgt. James Dress.
He said establishment of the community resource officer was one of the many reforms recommended last year by a county task force as part of the mandated New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.
“We would like to bring the community resource officer position to Mount Kisco so we have that officer that can partner with you and members of your leadership within the Mount Kisco community to build stronger relationships, to basically modify behavior and address quality-of-life conditions,” Dress said.
The community resource officer would be Eddie Ramirez, a 15-year law enforcement veteran and a former village police officer who has been working for the county since 2015. For the past three years, he has served as a school resource officer.
Ramirez said his job would include building relationships with a large cross section of the community such as merchants, Northern Westchester Hospital, community organizations like Neighbors Link and the schools. Programs that would likely be included are Handle With Care, which provides help for a child who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and Hope Not Handcuffs, that allows someone with a substance abuse problem to voluntarily turn themselves and their illegal substances over to police without fear of arrest and prosecution if they agree to receive help.
Project Alliance, which the county started in the fall in three areas of Westchester, including Mount Kisco, provides professionals to help police respond to calls that involve a person with mental health issues.
Ramirez said working directly with the community has been a passion of his throughout his career and he has helped many youngsters and their families as a school resource officer. He is also trained as a domestic violence officer and would have the ability to follow up with families after incidents.
Having a consistent presence in the village is critical to make the program work, Ramirez said.
“Community policing is not just doing one event a year, two events a year,” explained Ramirez, who is bilingual, which would help connect to the village’s large Spanish-speaking population. “Community policing really has to be a consistent program. It has to be day after day after day.”
Village Board members will have to consider whether they will want to make the financial commitment on an annual basis. Village Manager Ed Brancati said the community resource officer would cost the village $204,000 for a full year, although if the village added it before May 31, the expense would be prorated for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on that date.
“This is an investment in people, this is an investment in the community, this is an investment to try to have more sustainability in the community in the way we operate, the way we live, the way we work,” Brancati said.
Board members agreed the officer would be beneficial to the village, although coming up with the money every year could present a challenge.
“I am supportive of this, although figuring out how to finance things without burdening taxpayers is a priority in my mind,” said Mayor Gina Picinich. “But I think this represents another opportunity for us to implement higher touch and greater connectivity between policing public safety and the community as a whole.”
Deputy Mayor Lisa Abzun expressed some concern over whether one officer would be able to accomplish all the tasks that Ramirez outlined. Dress and Ramirez mentioned that the county police force has greater resources at its proposal than the village’s department.
“We have a very deep bench now and we can get a lot here,” Ramirez said. “Mount Kisco (was) a local police department. We were able to do a lot of things there but we were limited with the manpower that we had and the things we were able to accomplish.”
Trustee Karine Patino, who served on the county police reform task force last year and was involved with PACT, said she saw how community policing can make a positive impact.
Picinich said the board will discuss the issue at an upcoming work session.