At a time when there’s unprecedented scrutiny of law enforcement, I believe there is tremendous value in having a local police department that’s directly accountable to the community it serves. Local control means personnel are selected by the community and familiar with the public they serve and where the department’s policies can reflect local priorities.
At a meeting last month, a member of the Board of Trustees suggested the Village consider contracting with another police agency. In response, I requested that the Manager prepare a memo to the Board summarizing and analyzing the contracts between other Westchester communities.
In the memo, the Village Manager found:
The value of having our own police department is qualitative and cannot be measured in dollars and cents… However, I have been asked to review the Town of Cortlandt’s contract with Westchester County, the Town of Ossining’s contract with the Village of Ossining, and the Town/Village of Mt. Kisco’s contract with Westchester County. Upon review of these contracts it is clear that even from a purely financial perspective, the Village recognizes a financial savings from having its own force… The Village is therefore saving over $1-million per year by utilizing its own force.
The manager has reviewed the arrangements the County police have with other jurisdictions. There is no reason to believe that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson would get a more favorable agreement than what those communities have.
More importantly, we would lose local democratic control over policing in our community. We would go from citizens to consumers.
When the Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Russel Harper as the Chief of Police for the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, we made our priorities clear: a renewed emphasis on community policing; more training; a more diverse corps of officers; a modern police force.
In less than 3 years, Chief Harper has made steady progress on all these fronts. When I became mayor, we had an all-male police force with no bilingual officers. Under Chief Harper, we have added 2 bilingual officers and our first woman in uniform in almost a decade. Further, Chief Harper has made sure that officers strengthen their ties to the community with programs like “coffee with a cop” where residents can meet with the police in a casual setting.
Meanwhile, the Chief has continued to uphold the best traditions of the Croton PD (such as recruiting officers with deep roots in the community) and keep our Village one of the safest communities in New York State. Indeed, our record on public safety was one of the key reasons Croton-on-Hudson was named the best community in New York State in USA Today.
Since I joined the Board, I’ve been convinced of the value of the local police force. Correspondence from residents indicates overwhelming support for the current level of service that we have and opposition to any reduction.
We are facing unprecedented financial challenges as a Village. We should not be afraid to consider new proposals to save money and better serve the public. We cannot afford the luxury of sacred cows or unexamined assumptions.
Nonetheless, in my view, the Manager’s memo and the public’s correspondence makes it clear that there’s little to be gained from further exploration of police consolidation for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I will not be placing contracting out our police service on the agenda for a future work session. It’s not a good use of the time and energy of the Board and Village staff to devote our limited resources to this topic.
I look forward to continuing to work with Chief Harper and the Village administration to further improve the Croton Police Department while controlling costs.
Brian Pugh, Mayor