In 2011, West New York residents can expect a beefed up police presence, gang awareness and mentoring programs within schools, and a neighborhood crime watch.
Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega announced at a press conference Tuesday morning at Town Hall his multi-pronged “Keep WNY Safe 2011” public safety program that entails a cooperative effort between the Police Department, the Board of Education, the Housing Authority, and the residents of West New York.
West New York Police Director Albert Bringa, Superintendent of Schools John Fauta, and Public Safety Commissioner Lawrence Ricardi joined Vega to introduce the program.
“It’s very important to teach kids at a very young age.” – Mayor Vega
Expanded police presence
This year, the West New York Police Department will resume foot patrols in town, making a return to “old style policing,” with officers readily accessible to residents on the street.
Four police officers recruited last year after graduating from the police academy have already hit the streets, introducing themselves to merchants and residents, according to Vega.
Two additional police officers will be appointed this year as well.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we’re able to add police officers to the force when many municipalities are going through the hardship of laying [them] off,” Vega said.
The town also seeks to improve efficiency within the Police Department by filling vacant supervisory positions.
To enhance drunk driving enforcement efforts, the West New York Police Department will purchase four new police cars, a traffic control vehicle, and other related equipment.
Senior Citizens and other Housing Authority residents will benefit from the hire of eight new security guards to work with local police and from the installation of new security cameras funded by a federal grant.
Saying ‘no’ to drugs…and gangs
The expanded police department also enables the expansion of the D.A.R.E. program in the district’s elementary schools.
“D.A.R.E. has been cut back in [other] school districts because there are no resources,” Vega said, referring to police officers, who are the backbone of the program.
Now, students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade will learn how to “say no to drugs.”
“It’s very important to teach kids at a very young age,” Vega said. “[Otherwise,] it [sometimes] becomes more difficult to make them understand.”
Aside from grade level, the expanded D.A.R.E. program will also delve into the issue of gang violence and recruitment prevention. Specially trained officers will teach parents and faculty members how to identify gang behavior and culture through special seminars.
The gang-geared programs are no more than a proactive, preventative strategy, according to city spokesman Paul Swibinski, who does not believe there is an organized gang presence or active recruitment in West New York.
For Vega, recognition that gangs do exist is important.
“Whether urban or suburban, a town that thinks it shouldn’t be aware of drugs or gangs is lying to itself,” he said.
The town is also introducing a new student “peer to peer” mentoring program to help younger students make good life choices.
The “Heroes and Cool Kids” program, successful in other school districts, according to Vega, will have successful high school students and former professional athletes come into elementary school classrooms to serve as role models.
An eye on crime
West New York will now also rely on expanded public input through the creation of a Neighborhood Crime Watch program that will go hand in hand with its two-year, proven successful “Community Tip Line.”
Vega believes the program, which will consist of community meetings and training by police, should be working by the end of February.
In the meantime, dual-language signs have been issued around town to bring awareness to the newly created Crime Watch.
“[We want residents], both in English and Spanish, to know they have a friend in the Police Department,” Vega said.
Residents can call the “Community Tip Line” at (201) 295-5047.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.