“I was handed this department unaware,” newly appointed West New York Commissioner of Public Safety Caridad Rodriguez said Tuesday, “But I've picked it up like everything in my life. It is a challenge, but I'm excited to take it on and look into how we can best serve our town.”
Police Director Michael Indri, who has led the Police Department for a year and served on the force for 25, has no qualms about working with his new female boss.
“I've been taking orders from four ladies at home for many years,” he said with a chuckle in reference to his wife and three daughters. “But in all seriousness, I've known [Commissioner Rodriguez] for a long time, and I have a lot of faith in her.”
On June 20, Mayor Felix Roque and the majority of the five-member board voted to reassign each commissioner to a new department. Roque passed his role as head of the Department of Public Safety to Rodriguez.
“I've never seen the department work as hard, or make so many arrests for burglaries and robberies.” – Police Director Michael Indri
In West New York, the town is run by a five-member elected Board of Commissioners, one of whom also serves as mayor. Each of the others get a department to oversee part-time.
Rodriguez became the first woman in the town’s history to head the department, and the first Hispanic Cuban woman to hold such a role anywhere in the state.
Indri plans to work with Rodriguez to continue to make the best of recent cuts in funding and personnel, and she is certainly used to making the best out of increasingly scarce financial resources as the former head of the Department of Revenue and Finance.
“I'm excited to continue to do more with less and to get to know each and every member of the force,” she explained. “Public safety is a big, big issue in our town. I am willing to look into every avenue and do everything I can to excel and provide the best service to the community that we can. I'm ready to go to work.”
More with less
“I've never seen the department work as hard, or make so many arrests for burglaries and robberies which is a real salute to my investigators and detectives,” Indri said. “The area, the economic structure; it's an uphill battle, but we're committed to it.”
With personnel down around 15 percent from 120 to 100, and with the state of the economy and the subsequent loss of state and federal funding, the work load has certainly not decreased, but increased with the town’s population, Indri explained.
Despite the adversity, Indri has seen an increase of more than 20 percent in what he called “clearances;” or, open cases that are closed with arrests.
He added that the tactical patrol force has begun to collect and exchange information with field interview cards that contain descriptions of people involved in suspicious activity. As a result, officers are able to identify suspects “almost immediately” because they've gotten to know them so well.
They’ve also extended their Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to include both fifth and sixth grades, to be taught by former juvenile officer Elena Chemas and supervised by Lieutenant Joe Riccelli.
“What I basically did was double her workload which she graciously accepted,” Indri said. “The way that she took to the position, the way that she embraced the need and the program is exemplary of what we're trying to do in this department.”
Difficult times call for innovative measures
One approach to economic hardship has been Indri's brainchild, the Vehicle Maintenance Fund. The resolution, passed last November, dictates that when public corporations or businesses request street closings for maintenance or other reasons, the town charges a fee for each vehicle they park on the closed roads.
Since its inception, the department has collected enough money to purchase a brand new police vehicle (to be chosen by the police unions) at no cost to town taxpayers.
Indri and the town are also working to install a comprehensive camera surveillance system to increase public safety.
“Obviously there's no money out there but this is something we need to have,” Indri said. “Many other local communities have applied for and received grants for a camera system, but for what ever reason, years ago we did not, and so we're doing it piecemeal.”
Last month a new resolution was presented for the second time which would require that any new development with over 12 units install exterior surveillance cameras in line with departmental codes that will be monitored by police.
The department has also been allotted Urban Enterprise Zone funds so that they can purchase a central server that will eventually allow officers to monitor live feeds from all installed cameras, and two new building developers have volunteered their services to help with the cause.
The Mon Group, who is building on 59th and Jefferson, purchased the first two cameras that will allow police officers to read the license plate of a car three blocks away, Indri said. He hopes that cameras purchased in the future will be mobile so they can be placed in different places.
“We're nickel and diming this thing,” Indri stated. “Everyone is working double time, without complaint. And I'm proud that despite all the challenges, in my first year we'll be having our second round of promotions.”
July 21 will mark Indri's one year anniversary as director, and on July 18 at noon in Town Hall, the department will hold a promotion ceremony.
“We're doing our best in the daily battle against crime,” he said. “It's a constant reminder for me, it's on my mind all the time, it's something we don't tolerate, and every day we fight with all we got.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com