In Mount Kisco, ‘the Local Police Are the County Police’

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By David S. Joachim | December 10, 2018

One nearby Westchester village, Mount Kisco, did away with its police department in 2015 to save money after losing some officers to attrition and recognizing that several other officers, who had civil service protection, were approaching retirement.

The Westchester County Police took its place, under contract from the village. “The local police are the county police,” Mayor Gina Picinich says.

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Picinich is happy with the results. The old station house is now occupied by county officers, giving them a presence in the heart of the village. Response time hasn’t suffered, Picinich said, though she had no data.

Paying for policing as a service saves the village money on overtime and benefits, she said.

Diminished Force

Mount Kisco spending data from the state comptroller’s office doesn’t show a savings and, in fact, shows increased spending on police over the last decade, in dollar and percentage terms.

That’s because Mount Kisco’s force had operated at a diminished level for several years from about 2012 after losing six or seven officers, including the chief, without replacing them, according to Robert Wheeling, the village treasurer.

By 2015, Mount Kisco faced a choice: Invest about $1.4 million to restore staffing levels and another $1 million or so to replace aging equipment, or switch to paying the county for police services, Wheeling said. The village chose the latter option.

With the change, 27 Mount Kisco officers joined the county force, Wheeling said. Some of them are among the 29 county officers assigned to Mount Kisco. There’s still a part-time police chief who manages the relationship with the county police and oversees the crossing guards and parking enforcers, he said.

Now, in percentage terms, Mount Kisco spends far less of its budget on public safety than the Pelhams do (27 percent vs. more than 40 percent) and about half as much overall on employee benefits (15 percent vs. more than 30 percent), according to an analysis of the villages’ spending data.

Pelham Manor’s village manager, John Pierpont — who was Mount Kisco’s village manager more than 20 years ago — said he could see how county police stationed centrally in a village could maintain response times. That raises the question of where a hypothetical consolidated Pelham police force might be located, he said, since both police departments are now located centrally within their respective villages.

A Local Touch

Apart from response times, though, he said that any savings from getting police personnel off the village books had to be weighed against a possible loss of valuable services.

“Police departments do more than just respond to an emergency or a crime,” Pierpont said. “Police can do traffic control, they’re doing things for the community. Our police department visits the schools every day, they spend time outside the schools just to be there and to have a presence God forbid anything happens.”

Pelham Manor’s mayor, Jennifer Lapey, cited as an example a Parent Teacher Association meeting she attended at Prospect Hill Elementary School in November. There she heard complaints about near accidents involving children in front of the school and about blocked crosswalks and other hazards that were said to be common during pickups.

“I called the village manager and the police chief and said, ‘Are you around? I want to apprise you of a situation,’” Lapey said. “We met, and the next day we had an education and enforcement policy in place.”

If Pelham Manor had been relying on county officers, Lapey said, “Would the policy be in full force and effect the next morning?”

Crime Rates

When it comes to policing, the Pelhams are difficult to compare with other Westchester villages, even those with similar affluence, Lapey and Pierpont said. That’s because the town borders the Bronx and Mount Vernon, areas with much higher rates of violent crime than the state average.

“It stands to reason that if we cut the force, based on crime rates of the areas that neighbor us, our crime rate could go up,” Lapey said.

Picinich, for her part, believes she gets added value from having county officers patrol Mount Kisco, including fast and reliable access to detectives and advanced police work like air patrols over the village’s dense green spaces.

“I’m not saying this is right for every community,” says Picinich, who took office last year, after the village force was eliminated. “I’m saying this works for Mount Kisco.”

Indeed, even Michael Volpe, the Village of Pelham mayor who favors police consolidation, said that farming out police work to the county would be going too far for the Pelhams.

“I don’t think the county has established to my satisfaction that it can provide the quality of policing that we’re used to,” Volpe said.

Copyright David S. Joachim, 2018

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David S. Joachim is a Pelham Manor homeowner and an investigations editor at Bloomberg News, where he primarily covers the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Before that, he was an editor and reporter in New York and Washington for The New York Times.

More information about him is available at davidjoachim.com. He can be reached at david@davidjoachim.com.

This report was produced independently, for a graduate-school project at Syracuse University. It has no affiliation with Bloomberg News or Bloomberg LP.