By Barrett Seaman—
The Tarrytown Police Department is out combing the village—not in search of criminals this time but in search of new recruits. They are looking for locals: smart people who know the neighborhoods and understand the local issues—the kind of people citizens said in the recent police reform survey they would like to see in uniform.
Trouble is, folks like that are hard to find, and a clock is ticking down to a March 29 deadline to sign up for the Westchester County Civil Service Exam that determines who qualifies even to apply for the job. The test is given only every three or four years. As an enticement, the department is offering a free “cram/prep” course in advance of the actual exam in mid-May. So far, only about half a dozen have signed up. “That,” says Police Chief John Barbalet, “is too low.”
Why it’s so hard—especially in the current economic climate—to get people to apply to be a Tarrytown cop is, well, complicated. Part of it, believes Chief Barbalet, is the national environment in which the media shines a bright light on every “bad cop” incident and underplays the “good cop” news he believes is far more representative. But another part of it is New York State civil service law that requires police departments to hire one of the top three scorers from the list of exam takers, regardless of their other qualifications.
In Westchester, there are two lists—one county-wide, the other local. The county lists thousands of applicants; the local, says Barbalet, may be around 30. “We hire off the local list,” says the Chief. “Sometimes (the results) are very good; sometimes they’re not.”
The best way to improve the odds of getting qualified applicants—and applicants that reflect the diversity of the community—is to enlarge the pool of local citizens.
Tarrytown is not Rochester or other large police forces from which the “bad cop”stories typically emanate. Almost half of the 34 officers are from the area, and they are led by a chief who grew up and went to school in the village. There are three African-Americans officers, three women, seven who speak Spanish and one Pacific Islander. “We’re pretty diverse for a small job (department),” says the Chief. But there could be more from the communities that make up the village and the rivertowns in general.
Paying for the prep test is not only an incentive but also a way to remove socio-economic disparity that may dissuade potential recruits. Just spreading the word so that potential candidates know the opportunity is there is another. As such, the department is passing out flyers (like the one above) in local houses of worship, community centers and in the high school. Students should know that there is no minimum age for taking the test but they cannot be appointed until they are 20.
Interested parties should email Lieutenant Chris Cole (firstname.lastname@example.org) to sign up for the course. More information is available on the department’s web site: https://www.tarrytowngov.com/home/news/police-officer-exam-and-cram-for-the-exam