The firing of Mount Vernon Police Commissioner Carl Bell by Mayor Ernie Davis continues to be a hot-button issue in the city nearly a month after Bell was let go.
Damon Jones, a Mount Vernon resident and the head of the Westchester chapter of Blacks in Law Enforcement, criticized Bell's termination as he addressed the City Council during its meeting Wednesday.
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"How are we going to fire a commissioner who is holding officers to accountability?" he asked. "There are some police officers that are out of control."
He said the victims of police brutality are African-American.
"The only people they're abusing are people who look like us," he said.
Davis, who has sole responsibility over the police commissioner, has refused to comment on why Bell was fired -- an issue that Samuel Rivers questioned.
"An answer from the mayor that he doesn't discuss personnel matters is not good enough," Rivers said.
None of the council's five members addressed Bell's firing. Council member Roberta Apuzzo, the head of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said she was "looking forward to having a dialogue" with Jones.
"I've been around here since 1986, and we've had 12 police commissioners. Something's wrong with that equation," City Council President Yuhanna Edwards said.
Jones said he plans to write letters to the Department of Justice's civil rights division about police abuse of Mount Vernon residents.
In a Monday letter to Mount Vernon city Attorney Nichelle Johnson, Jones said the organization would continue to question the motive behind Bell's firing.
"This has completely jeopardized the process of accountability and transparency in the Mount Vernon Police Department," Jones said.
Several members of the police force are under investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office for possible ties to gang members, Newsday reported Feb. 22. Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe was in its preliminary stages and was not focused solely on officers from any one race or any particular hometown.
Davis, who is the target of a separate federal probe into his finances, has said he knows nothing of the Police Department probe. Sources have said that Davis and Bell have been kept in the dark about the police investigation.
Bell, who is taking time off before deciding his next career move, told Newsday he appreciated the support he has received from Mount Vernon police officers and city residents since he was fired.
"It's nice to know there are people who appreciate the job I did," Bell said. "But I'm looking forward, not looking back."
Davis fired Bell on Feb. 19, ending Bell's 2 1/2-year tenure as commissioner. The firing came after a year in which shootings and homicides spiked in Mount Vernon and relations between Davis and Bell -- who was appointed in August 2010 by Davis' predecessor, Clinton Young -- deteriorated.
The mayor on Feb. 28 appointed Richard Burke as deputy police commissioner. Burke -- a former Mount Vernon police lieutenant who retired in 1994 after 21 years with the force -- will run the 205-member Police Department until a commissioner is named.
Sources said that Davis' first choice for the commissioner's job is former Mount Vernon Police Officer Terrance Raynor, who heads the 35 investigators of the Westchester County district attorney's office.
Raynor attended Burke's swearing-in March 1 and said afterward he had not applied for the job. He didn't give a direct answer when asked whether he was interested in the post.
Last year, there were 10 homicides and more than 20 shootings in Mount Vernon. Only two arrests have been made in the homicide cases. The 10 killings surpassed the combined total of the previous two years.