Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis: Scandal won't deter new top cop

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis. (Dec. 31, 2012) Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis. (Dec. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Financial woes, an understaffed and demoralized police department, and a mayor under an FBI microscope aren't reasons to deter potential police commissioners from applying for a job in Mount Vernon, Mayor Ernie Davis said in an interview Thursday with News12.

"If you want to be police, it's a good place to be," Davis said.

Davis, who personally took control of the Mount Vernon Police Department last year before firing Commissioner Carl Bell on Feb. 19, said he has had no shortage of resumes from law enforcement veterans interested in the gig.

"Nobody will not come to Mount Vernon because of the publicity that's been generated," Davis said, telling a reporter he has been "fielding applications from all over," including candidates from as far away as Florida.

That publicity includes recent headlines about a joint FBI and IRS probe into Davis' finances, including campaign donations, charities founded by Davis and tax bills on the mayor's 10 properties in four states. It also includes a related federal probe into allegations that some cops are working with street gangs.

The city made news last year when its homicide rate doubled compared with the previous year, with 10 slayings and 20 shootings. And earlier this week, Newsday reported that strip club owner Sam Zherka, who owns the Westchester Guardian weekly newspaper, was appointed to a police advisory board even though he lives in Katonah.

Any new commissioner might have to share power with Davis within the department. While Bell was still the police commissioner, Davis was meeting with members of the department and advising them on how to police the city, despite his lack of experience in law enforcement.

And the new commissioner might wonder what it takes to get on the mayor's bad side: Davis never told the public why he unceremoniously canned Bell, and he insisted Thursday the move requires no explanation.

"No, you know better than that," he said when asked about why he fired Bell. "You don't discuss personnel matters."

That attitude doesn't sit well with some people in the city.

"Taxpayers want to know why he got fired all of a sudden," said Shayne Brooks of Mount Vernon. "And he was doing a great job."

At a Tuesday night City Council meeting, representatives from the local chapter of Blacks in Law Enforcement criticized Davis, and neighbors said Davis was using the "personnel issue" line as an excuse.

On Thursday, Butch Thomas of Mount Vernon told News12 that violence is accepted in Mount Vernon.

The city needs "someone who would treat this place similar to White Plains and Scarsdale, that when you walk on the streets you don't have to worry about anything."

The new commissioner already has a deputy in 59-year-old Richard J. Burke, a former lieutenant with the department who retired in 1994. Burke was hired March 1 at a salary of $94,700 and will oversee the department until his boss is named.

Davis hasn't said how much money Bell's successor will make, but the former commissioner earned $126,000 annually.

"It's a good job for people who want to make a difference, fight crime and restore order to neighborhoods," Davis said.

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