Two local police chiefs spoke about the growing concern of antisemitism and other threats in their communities last week and how they’re handling a variety of situations.
New Castle Chief James Carroll and Pleasantville Chief Erik Grutzner addressed close to 40 Rotary members at a joint meeting and luncheon of the Chappaqua and Pleasantville Rotary clubs on Nov. 30 at Tesoro D’Italia in Pleasantville, detailing their preparedness for threats in the community. Several elected officials were on hand as well.
Carroll and Grutzner said their departments have been particularly vigilant since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel.
“Here in the Pleasantville and New Castle communities is a large, thriving and active Jewish community who we have been working with,” Grutzner said. “We have close relationships with security teams at the local temples.”
Carroll said once war broke out in Israel, patrols were increased at places of worship, and officers who were stationed at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester worked nearly around the clock in eight-hour shifts.
“We tried to be there (Temple Beth El) any time there was worship, religious or pre-school,” Carroll said. “At other times we tried to have officers present six times a day and we are still doing increased patrols.”
New Castle has about 40 officers, including some who have been stationed at Horace Greeley High School, where there have been incidents reported of antisemitic graffiti, along with having a presence at the Chappaqua School District’s elementary and middle schools.
“There has been some graffiti in the schools,” Carroll said. “And we haven’t seen any specific threats to our area, but we are monitoring it.”
According to Grutzner there have been no reported antisemitic incidents in Pleasantville since Oct. 7.
Critical for both police departments is enhanced mutual aid and communication between them and other law enforcement agencies. Especially helpful is the Westchester County police’s Real Time Crime Center, which works with the FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and receives immediate intelligence information from state and federal crime-watch agencies. There is also an around-the-clock intelligence department monitoring social media to assess potential threats in the county.
The chiefs said their departments receive regular bulletins from the Real Time Crime Center and their detectives also closely watch social media.
“These are people who are constantly watching over these types of things and putting the dots together that we might not have known existed,” Grutzner said.
“There’s definitely a challenge between what’s going on nationally and what’s on social media and how it applies here,” he added. “I am constantly looking at information through the lens of how it’s going to affect our community.”
Also essential are establishing relationships with local organizations, knowing your community and having the public feel comfortable seeking out and speaking to police.
“Our residents are not shy about calling in if there is someone who appears of interest,” Carroll said.
During a question-and-answer session, Carroll was asked about efforts being made to reach out to protect the relatively small Muslim community in New Castle, which might be feeling vulnerable and afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.
A reference was made to the well-attended and somewhat contentious New Castle Town Board meeting on Nov. 14 where for almost two hours the public offered praise but also criticism of local officials’ decision to fly the Israeli flag outside Town Hall.
Carroll said the department is pondering steps to respond to their needs as well.
“We are considering creating an anonymous community liaison with the Muslim community,” Carroll responded. “We created a similar liaison as part of police reform when BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals weren’t reporting incidents or making complaints to police. We are thinking of creating a similar liaison.”
Grutzner said an ongoing relationship with the Westchester Jewish Council has been extremely important, adding that his department met with the council in September before the High Holy days.
“The key to all of this is to establish those relationships to make sure that you have that open communication,” Grutzner said. “After the war began, we are seeing the benefit of having established those relationships.”
According to published reports, there were bomb threats made late last week against 15 synagogues in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, two in Westchester County and five more in upstate New York. Threats were sent via e-mail or through synagogue websites, and after investigation by law enforcement all threats were determined as not credible.
Last summer Grutzner said members of the 23-officer department joined the Pleasantville Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Pleasantville Volunteer Fire Department for a training session at Pleasantville High School on “responses to critical incidents.”
“We were training on how to respond to what a critical incident would look like and went through multiple iterations of responses,” Grutzner said. “We constantly recognize the need for training.”
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/