By Abby Luby and Martin Wilbur
The Village of Pleasantville and the Town of New Castle opened their police reform forums last Thursday evening, the first in a series of public meetings in each community to consider potential revisions to the two departments’ policies and procedures.
The meetings by the Pleasantville Police Reform Steering Committee and New Castle’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee were formed following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in June requiring police departments statewide to conduct a review with community stakeholders following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. All jurisdictions with a police department must submit a plan no later than Apr. 1.
Pleasantville’s live-streamed sessions included village officials, concerned residents, school board members, the Chamber of Commerce, Pace University, among others.
“Our purpose here tonight is to give you an idea of what we are doing and to reach out to know what people are thinking. We want to engage the community in the broadest sense,” said Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer, who oversaw the meeting.
Pleasantville Police Chief Erik Grutzner said he looked forward to working with the community.
“Our purpose is to give you an idea of what we are doing and give everyone a sense of accountability and transparency,” he said. “This is a unique opportunity to hear from the community and to clear up any misconceptions.”
New Castle’s 12-member committee, headed by Deputy Supervisor Jeremy Saland, heard from a small group of residents who complimented the town’s police force and cautioned against making changes where perhaps none need to be made.
Resident Jackie O’Brien said it is important for the town to review the department even though most residents are satisfied.
“I am eager to support any reforms that make sense to improve what might already be good practices,” O’Brien said. “But I also think there’s an opportunity for New Castle to do because we may have less mired complex issues, we have the responsibility of creating a department that is exemplar.”
Police Chief James Carroll said the 38-officer department is one of just 116 out of more than 500 police agencies across the state that has received accreditation. Serving the public and ensuring public safety is crucial but so is earning its trust.
“I am proud of our accreditation but our biggest strength is our officers and their commitment to community policing and providing services,” Carroll said. “These are our foundations and the responsibility of every member of our department.”
Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter thanked Grutzner and village officials for their efforts, especially related to mental health issues.
“We’ve had youth officers in so many of our programs [at school] and that’s at the heart of community policing. There is good work taking place here,” she said.
The police reform process will include outreach to students and young adults in Pleasantville. Vincent Beatty, executive director, safety and security at Pace University, said he meets with students monthly and they have expressed an interest to be involved in the discussions.
“Student leaders [at Pace] want to come forward and attend some of these meetings,” said Beatty, who noted that Pace students feel safe when they come into Pleasantville. “They could have some insights that may surprise people.”
Eric Cintron, a 12-year Chappaqua resident, told New Castle’s committee that growing up in New York City and as a person of color the relationship with the police had not always been easy, but complimented town officials for increasing diversity within the town’s police department.
Carroll mentioned that of the department’s 38 members in uniform, 18 percent are Black, 13 percent are Hispanic and 13 percent are female.
“I commend you for developing for what’s obviously a more diverse police force,” Cintron said. “We have seen it since we’ve been here and is very much appreciated. I want you to know how important that is because I think it needs to be across the board, it needs to be in our school district as well.”
Hussein Elzoghby, a Upper Westchester Muslim Society trustee, offered to help Pleasantville police with foreign language interpreters.
“We have a diverse congregation of people from over 50 countries and they speak every language and dialects from Senegal to Trinidad to Turkey,” he said. “If the need arises, we can offer to help.”
Former Harrison police chief and longtime Pleasantville resident Louis Dorio said current efforts for police reform is consistent with ongoing training.
“They are continually upgrading the training, especially for mental health issues,” he said. “The [Pleasantville] chief knows what we need to reform. It may be troublesome because adding training means needing more manpower.”
New Castle’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee will reconvene this Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. followed by additional sessions on Nov. 19, Dec. 3 and 17 and Jan. 2 and 30. Comments and questions from the public can be sent to email@example.com.
The next meeting of Pleasantville’s Police Reform Steering Committee is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. The community is invited to submit comments via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.