Manor police panel members express concern over costs, tech challenges of body cams; chief doesn’t address flag debate



Axon Body 3 camera in demonstration.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from the original version published Feb. 12 to reflect the fact concerns about body cameras were expressed by members of the stakeholder working group, not Pelham Manor Police Chief Jeffrey Carpenter.

During a public forum on police reform, two members of the Pelham Manor stakeholder working group expressed concerns over the costs, staffing needs and technological challenges of having the department adopt body cameras.

And despite questions from two residents, Pelham Manor Police Chief Jeffrey Carpenter did not directly address the controversy over thin-blue-line-flag imagery in the Pelham schools. He did review the reasoning behind police walkthroughs of elementary schools.

Pelham Manor’s report on reforming police does include any discussion of body cams.

Kevin To, a member of the stakeholder working group appointed to help carry out the state-mandated reform process and an officer in the New York Police Department, pointed to the number of arrests in Pelham Manor, the need for a technician to blur faces before video is released and data-storage needs in suggesting the money could be invested elsewhere.

“I’m a proponent for them because I believe through the body cams it’s all transparency, but it is going to be a cost and it’s something the Manor’s going to have to look at whether it’s worth the cost,” To said. “Looking at the crime stats, there’s only 68 arrests made last year in the whole entire year… With 68 arrests and the costs, they’re going to have to decide whether that’s worth the money or if the money can be allocated somewhere else say like more training or additional hiring.”

“With the amount of activity here, I’m not sure—it’s costly—it if it’s worth it,” he said.

“It is a good idea and we haven’t, we haven’t ruled it out, and it’s just there’s are a lot of difficulties that come with body cameras,” said Chris Ganpat, also a member of the stakeholder group.

Pelham resident Adam Ilkowitz, who asked the original question about body cams, followed up, saying, “Since there’s nothing in the report about how much it costs, do you guys know how much it costs? Is that something you’d be willing to put into a report so that the community can evaluate what that is?”

“It’s my understanding that five years, a five-year program would be $250,000 just for the equipment, and like Mr. To said, we’d have storage and manpower issues that would contribute to that,” said Carpenter. “That’s the number I have, $250,00 for a five-year program. And I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more.”

The department also issued 216 traffic tickets from Jan. 1 to Oct. 22 last year, according to Pelham Manor’s report on police reform. That report—and Thursday’s forum—are part of a process initiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in June, which said “following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota, protests have taken place daily throughout the nation and in communities across New York State in response to police-involved deaths and racially-biased law enforcement to demand change, action and accountability.” Cuomo’s order requires each municipality to engage in a public process that results in adoption of an action plan by April.

(The Village of Pelham’s reform report has recommended body cameras. Officers of the Westchester county police already wear them.)

Resident Chris D’Angelo asked for a comment from Carpenter regarding  Pelham’s thin-blue-line-flag controversy in November.  The question came after a similar query by Ilkowitz, which wasn’t addressed in a previous answer by Carpenter.

“I have not had any communication with any high school students,” said Carpenter, “but we have stayed vigilant within our elementary schools.” Carpenter went on to say that his discussions with the local social-activist organization Pelham United have helped the department to understand concerns by teenagers regarding law enforcement in Pelham Manor.

Carpenter, on behalf of the executive leadership of the Pelham Manor Police Department, wrote a letter Nov. 13 to Pelham Superintendent Cheryl Champ expressing concerns about the banning of the thin blue line flag, considered by some a symbol of police solidarity, stating he was “upset” he had not been informed students increasingly perceived the flag to be threatening. The letter listed the services the department provided to the school district.

Resident Ramsey McGrory asked about mental health and Manor policing. Two mental-health first aid officers are currently working in Pelham Manor and are routinely on duty, Carpenter said. In addition, several officers have received specific mental-health and crisis-management training.

“It is on the forefront of my mind,” said Carpenter. “I have every intention to expand (mental-health training) for officers.”

Nadine Leesang, a senior at Pelham Memorial High School, asked how the Manor police plan on measuring community trust in the police, particularly in Pelham’s BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) communities.

In his response, Carpenter did not address methods the police department was using to quantify community trust, but explained the reasoning behind the “walkthrough” practices of police in local schools, which have received criticism from some for being intimidating to students.

“Currently, we only do walkthroughs at elementary schools in Pelham Manor, due to past horrific school shootings,” Carpenter said. “To the best of my knowledge, this reasoning was never relayed to students or parents by schools at all.”

Throughout the forum, Carpenter quoted the words of the 19th century British governmental official Robert Peel, often considered the founder of the modern western police system. “The police are the public and the public are the police,” Carpenter said. “The core values (Peel) brought to law enforcement were very important, and we hope to live up to these values today in Pelham Manor.”