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March 30, 2023

Yonkers Times

By Corazón Pineda-Isaac

By the current Mayor’s own admission, crime is increasing in Yonkers. The Yonkers Police Department says property crimes are up 10% over last year and shoplifting has doubled in the same period. There is a palpable sense of unease that I feel as I go door to door talking to residents.

But for several years, the Mayor has been telling us that Yonkers is among the “safest City in America” while doing nothing to address the issues that reduce crime over the long term. Crime is increasing today because Mike Spano has ignored the issue for three terms.

What he fails to recognize is the issue of crime is nothing new for many residents of Yonkers, especially in Black, Latino and poor neighborhoods. It’s a common refrain I’ve heard in my council office for years – the senior citizen afraid of getting assaulted, the clergy member worried about hate crimes at their place of worship, the parents worried about their child walking to school, the shopper worried about their car getting broken into or the business owner worried about getting robbed. All while he’s lectured us on how safe we were, the Mayor, a former Republican, has been out of touch with the real experiences of Yonkers residents.

He’s only waking up to it now because it’s a political threat to his attempt at a fourth term, one he needed to overturn term limits a second time to run for. But the solutions he is offering come from the same tired playbook that Yonkers politicians have deployed since the 1970s: hold a press conference, talk tough and blame the State government.

This is the wrong approach. The way we make Yonkers safer – long term – is by addressing the root causes of crime. Yonkers must invest in community services like mental health, intervention strategies like violence interrupters, affordable housing, education, after school programs, good jobs and community centers. These investments would make a major impact on the lives of our residents and keep us safer in the process.

Imagine a child who turned six when the Mayor first took office. That child grew up without adequate access to after school programs, sports and art. Her family may have had a hard time finding stable housing. And she may have endured trauma with no tools to manage it because there is little access to mental health services in the school or community. Today that child is almost 18 years old and has missed out on so many opportunities to enrich her life because Mike Spano has done nothing for her.

The police department plays a critical role, to be sure. I support providing them the tools they need to keep our communities and themselves safe, whether its financial resources, personnel, training or equipment. We also need to take a hard look at the department’s structure. Under the current Mayor, Yonkers does not have a dedicated domestic violence unit, gang unit or burglary unit. Police often find themselves bogged down by paperwork, which takes them away from time in the field where they could be building relationships and keeping the community safe. Restructuring the department by adding new dedicated units will help the police target their efforts more effectively.

At the same time, police officers are and should be held to a higher standard. The police community relationship works best when there is trust, and the onus to create that trust lies with the department and the officers themselves. It happens by building relationships, recruiting from within the community and making sure the officers look like and speak the language of the people and understand the perspectives of the communities they serve. The Mayor does not understand this dynamic.

People need to feel safe if Yonkers is going to reach its true potential. I agree with the Mayor that crime is one of the most important issues in our City, but I disagree on his approach. His policies may play well to his base, but they are out of touch with the reality that so many people of Yonkers face. We need a long-term plan and real investment in the community, not empty rhetoric and a playbook from half a century ago.

The writer is a Yonkers City Councilmember and Democratic Candidate for Mayor

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