Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Mayor Amicone: “There’s No Movement For A Civilian Police Review Board”

Last Monday, March 10, Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone called a late-morning press conference at City Hall to make the announcement, “Yonkers crime rates were down substantially in 2007.” He declared, “There have been double-digit drops in each precinct. Shootings, robberies, and auto theft are all down.” His words were little comfort to the family of 25-year-old Martin Perez, gunned down three months ago with a .357 Magnum as he fled for his life from thieves at 50 Hawthorne Avenue, having been called to make a food delivery from the nearby Emerald Diner.

In addition to the Mayor, also present at the press conference, was Police Commissioner Edmund Hartnett, as well as City Council
members Sandy Annabi, Joan Gronowski and Pat McDow, and a complement of six uniformed police officers.

The Advocate addressed a question to Amicone: “Mr. Mayor, can you tell us about the status of the establishment of a Civilian Police
Complaint Review Board?” The Mayor responded without a second’s hesitation, “There’s no movement for a new Civilian Police Review
Board. We have a review process within the Department and there are civilians on that Board.”

As far as Philip Amicone and Police Commissioner Hartnett are concerned, there is no police brutality problem in the Yonkers Police Department, and the scores of cases involving Yonkers Police Of-ficers brutalizing women and children, as well as men, are false. Furthermore, by quickly dismissing our question, Amicone was denying that there is any good reason for the United States Justice Department to be investigating the huge number of complaints that the FBI has been interviewing victims about for quite some time. He and his Police Commissioner have made it very clear that they simply want to sweep the problem under the rug, make it go away without resolution. And, it would appear that they have had, and continue to have, a willing co-conspirator in that effort on the City Council.

Democratic City Councilwoman Pat McDow, who has conspicuously stood by Amicone’s side for quite some time now, not only on this issue, but on matters of real estate and development, was the individual in City Government who supposedly was spearheading the drive for a Civilian Complaint Review Board 18 months ago when The Guardian first broke the story, “Mother, 72, Daughter, 49, Charge Yonkers Police Brutality,” the story that drew out scores of complainants previously too fearful to go public.

The fact is, despite her statements at the time, September 2006, to The Guardian regarding her efforts to create a meaningful and effective
Civilian Complaint Review Board, such representations were mere window dressing. And, following Monday’s ‘public relations press conference’, when approached by The Guardian regarding the subject, she offered little more than tired excuses, no evidence of concern about
the impact police brutality has had on her constituents as well as men, women and children across the city.

Since we broke the story a year and a half ago, there have been a number of public forums on the subject, sponsored, and co-sponsored, by
the local chapter of the NAACP. We have attended those gatherings, and we are keenly aware of how out-of-step with reality, and the sentiments of those who have been victimized, the Mayor and his Commissioner really are. At one such gathering, in the auditorium of the Riverfront Library, not too many months ago, Mayor Amicone was literally chased out of the place by a jeering audience who would not accept his remarks, his attempt to whitewash the problem.

The fact is, Phil Amicone and his Administration have no intention of reversing the infamous reputation and reality of the Yonkers Police Department as one of the most violent police departments in Westchester County, a situation that has been well-known for decades. There is simply no denying that there is a small, but persistent, contingent, perhaps fewer than 20 officers out of a force of 670, who have reportedly brutalized and violated the civil rights of individuals taken into custody. Correction officers at the County Jail invariably identify those who have come from Yonkers even before examining their papers, based upon the physical condition in which they arrive.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, opposite Police Headquarters, has traditionally been the depository for those who are so badly beaten they cannot be transported to the County Jail without serious medical care. In such cases, family and attorneys have actually been kept for days from visiting and photographing the results of such beatings. Something must be done about this historic stain on the Police Department of our state’s fourth-largest city. There’s a reason why the Yonkers Police Department is the only department in the region whose officers do not wear nameplates. There’s obviously also a reason why Pat McDow is no longer the Majority Leader of the Yonkers City Council.

Irrespective of the outcome of the present federal investigation into the practices of the Yonkers Police Department, the residents of our County’s largest city deserve a real Civilian Complaint Review Board, one that is not under the thumb of the Mayor and his mindless, oppressive, Administration. Those in City Government who are not part of the solution are clearly part of the problem.

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