Some Pleasantville residents said they want officers to be more involved with the Black community, while others questioned the types of weapons in use during the village’s latest forum on police reform.
Pleasantville High School graduates Milton and Ian Esliker, who are Black, said they always had a good relationship with the Pleasantville Police Department growing up, explaining how their mother would introduce them to all the cops. Despite her efforts, they suggested more communication is needed between law enforcement and different communities.
“My mom reached out and introduced us to all the cops. Not every person of color is like that. More communication has to come from the white side, from the police side,” Milton Esliker said. “It’s important to emphasize all different types of heritages. That would be a step forward.”
Ian Esliker added the need for bias training within the department, noting that law enforcement should be better equipped to address situations that arise at The Cottage School and those with psychological or emotional disorders.
Last Thursday’s virtual forum is the latest in a series of meetings aiming to make improvements within the police department. During the nearly two-hour discussion, residents also indicated how police need to overcome perceived racial bias and increase their presence within the village.
Resident Loretta Chiavetta said with the village a walking community, police should be assigned a beat, learn the area, and talk to people of all ages. She pressed greater visibility would teach youngsters to respect the police, while giving officers the chance to know residents personally.
Mandy Yasinsky agreed, adding that an increase in police presence could create a more positive perception of law enforcement.
“My kids should be having a face-to-face with police officers and know who they are,” Yasinsky said. “The police need to be more visible, more hands-on.”
The types of firearms Pleasantville officers use was also a hot topic during the forum.
Resident Adrienne Byrne recalled seeing what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon inside a police cruiser, asserting how young kids could become standoffish with officers who carry guns they fear.
Police Chief Eric Grutzner confirmed the department does use semi-automatic guns, but said all equipment and firearms are considered useful for training and liability. He stressed the department takes carrying those weapons “extremely seriously.”
“Sandy Hook is not that far behind us and we’re very lucky that the Pleasantville Police Department takes that seriously,” Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter said. “We need to rest assured if something terrible happens they are 45 seconds away.”
Angelie Wallace, a Pleasantville High School senior, questioned how much the village allocates on weapons, suggesting the money should fund mental health training. It’s an area that has been lacking, she said, addressing the problem of police brutality throughout the nation.
Mayor Peter Scherer didn’t cite a specific number but said very little of the village budget is spent on weaponry, adding most of the police budget is dispensed on staff and salaries. He said previous attempts to recruit mental health experts were halted for budgetary reasons.
Longtime resident and former Harrison Police Chief Louis Dorio said Pleasantville police have done a good job. However, Dorio, who used to teach at the Westchester County Police Academy, believes law enforcement officials need to encourage more trust within the community.
“Statistics show a small percentage of police officers do the majority number of misdeeds,” he said. “We have to make an effort to show the community that we’re not the bad guys; we’re somebody you should come to when you need help and try to erase that image of police as the bad guys.”
The community is invited to submit comments at the village email: firstname.lastname@example.org