Pelham police chiefs support current hiring system, but say changes are coming


Village of Pelham police vehicles parked next to Town Hall, which houses the department.

As the civil rights movement has been revived across the nation, Americans have been encouraged to see how they can address and reform local organizations. Pelham has been no different: Current events have encouraged citizens to take a closer look at their community to combat systemic racism and encourage full transparency among all government agencies, especially the operations and hiring practices of the police departments of both the Village of Pelham and Village of Pelham Manor.

National and local groups have specifically called on departments to reform hiring so each force is more representative of its community. “Set hiring protocols to build a police force that reflects the diversity of the community,” the Progressive Women of Pelham said in a June statement in which it called for changes to the law enforcement agencies in both villages.

Manor Police Chief Carpenter and Village Police Chief Pallett have made clear that Westchester County puts forth most of the standards with which they must comply when it comes hiring. The process starts out with an examination given in the county every four years, with this score inevitably being the determining factor in an applicant’s success at being hired. Carpenter said that the core of hiring is built around this civil service test and the grouping that occurs once scores are received. The top scorers are then sent canvas letters to gauge their interest in interviewing at a specific police department.

Pallett said that the interviewing process is meant to involve as many opinions as possible, explaining that the village hiring committee often consists of the mayor, board of trustee liaison, village administrator, police chief and lieutenant. The idea is to include many village leaders in the hiring process, which he said he believes to be very reflective of the community.

Both chiefs emphasized that all candidates are well-vetted. Pallett said that “there’s a long background check that we must do on potential new police officers” to make sure that they are suited for the job, with one of the factors they’re looking for being a permanent resident of the county. Carpenter described the process as restrictive, saying that people don’t always make it through the background checks and that there is a lot of information that must be obtained.

When asked about potential challenges he sees in the process, Pallett said, “Sometimes it can be difficult to go off of the local resident or county list. We must interview the top three scores and hire from that group of applicants. It can sometimes be difficult to find candidates that reflect the demographic of the community due to the strict eligibility rules that are in place. Whoever has one of the top three scores is generally who you have to hire, assuming they pass a background check, physical agility test, medical and psychological examinations.”

Carpenter agreed that this restrictiveness can be tough and discussed a policy that Westchester County has put forth concerning hiring, which mandates that police departments cannot hire from a group with lower scores until there are only a few unhired names in the group above. He explained that his options of who to hire can sometimes be limited due to this policy, which has only been further exemplified by the fact that police exams of 2020 have been indefinitely suspended.

Carpenter expressed support for the system but acknowledged that there is change going on as a result of a recent executive order on local police and that people must keep open minds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, issued June 12, calls for “each local government with a police agency to provide… a comprehensive review of deploymence, strategies, procedures, and practices and develop a plan to prove them.” Reforms and strategies are required to be completed and adapted by April.

Groups and individuals in Pelham are demanding reform on their local level, with one of those groups being the Progressive Women of Pelham. In June the group issued a press release about their demands for the police departments.

Marisa Panzani, co-chairwoman of Progressive Women of Pelham, explained the group’s main desire was to encourage more transparency in the police departments’ current policies.

“We need to know what they’re proactively doing,” Panzani said. “We are in no way saying that Pelham isn’t doing their due diligence, but we don’t know.”

Panzani said their mission as a group is not to oppose the police department and their current policies but to have a conversation so that the community is more aware of the process behind hiring. 

“We want to work with our police department and with our elected officials,” explained Panzani. “We do not see this as an adversarial conversation. I think they would benefit from having some collective dialogues.”