Hoping for a new start for its beleaguered police department, Mount Vernon officially welcomed an old hand as the new face of its law enforcement arm on Friday.
Former police chief Terrance Raynor took the reins as the city's police commissioner in a standing-room-only ceremony in the council chambers at City Hall. A beaming Raynor greeted friends and colleagues before the ceremony.
"I'm happy to be here, ready to roll up my sleeves and move this department forward," Raynor told well-wishers before the swearing in.
An equally happy Mayor Ernie Davis gushed: "I think this is a great day for Mount Vernon. We have turned a corner and will work hard to break some eggs to make an omelet. We will work for Mount Vernon to regain prominence and stature in Westchester County."
Raynor, 50, was selected to replace former Commissioner Carl Bell, who was fired by Davis on Feb. 19 after a tumultuous 2 1/2-year tug-of-war with the mayor over control of the 205-member department. In recent months, Davis took over supervision of the force, despite his own lack of law enforcement experience and allegations of fiscal impropriety.
Acknowledging the city's problem with gangs and gun violence, Davis said Friday: "If Mount Vernon is going to be what it needs to be, we have to have a perception that we are a safe city. ... People know who the criminals are. The police department does not. If we can marry these, this will work."
In 2012, the city of about 67,000 experienced a spike in homicides and shootings. Of the 10 murders last year, police only solved two -- and one of those involved alleged serial killer Lucius Crawford, who was nabbed by New York City and Yonkers police.
So far in 2013, there have been two homicides in Mount Vernon. Police have solved one of the cases, arresting three New York City men in connection with the May 20 shooting death of Christopher Foe, 56, in the Alamo Bar. The killing of another man, found shot dead on May 16 in a parked car, has not been solved.
Moreover, several members of the department are under federal investigation for alleged ties to gang members, law enforcement sources have told Newsday. Street gangs have plagued the city in recent years and are believed to be responsible for much of the violence and drug trafficking on the city's troubled south side.
On Friday, City Council President Yuhanna Edwards warned the city's leaders they'd better be prepared to work with Raynor.
"There was controversy around the last commissioner," Edwards said. "You're going to have to control yourselves. This guy does not play. Commissioner Raynor does not play."
Earning a reputation as a cops' cop who knew the streets well, Raynor spent 22 years on the force, rising from patrol officer when he joined in 1984, to narcotics division detective in 1997, and commander of the patrol division in 2000.
In 2006, he retired as police chief, and the following year he was named head investigator at the Westchester County district attorney's office. There, Raynor supervised a team of 35 until he resigned in April.
Born in Brooklyn, Raynor moved to Mount Vernon when he was a teenager. Today, he has residences in Peekskill and Mount Vernon.
Raynor said he will meet with each member of the police department to hear their views on the issues they confront. "We must address the morale problem," he said.
The new commissioner also vowed to be tough on crime. "Our streets do not belong to the gangs," he said, adding that Mount Vernon must "push the thugs out of our neighborhoods."
In March, the mayor hired retired Mount Vernon lieutenant Richard Burke, 59, to serve as the department's second deputy commissioner after Bell's departure. He is expected to continue in that position.
Raynor also will get support from a new initiative announced Thursday that will allow officers and detectives from the Westchester County Department of Public Safety to work with the Mount Vernon police department.