Many people let their guards down after that took place near the Pelham Train Station in January.
But that all changed after at the corner Elderwood Avenue and East Second Street. Now, Pelham village officials want to make it clear that residents need to remain vigilant and aware as police continue to search for the man they believe robbed three people at gunpoint as they were walking home from the train station.
“Unfortunately, if you’re walking home you have to be more aware than your are normally,” Pelham Mayor Edward Hotchkiss said Saturday during a special board meeting. “If something looks unusual, if you see something that looks a little bit unusual, call the police if it looks like somebody who doesn’t belong in the neighborhood. You could be wrong, but it’s better to err in that way.”
More than two dozen people showed up to Saturday’s meeting. Hotchkiss said the meeting was called so police and village officials could better explain the details of the three robberies.
Tom Lasala, a Pelham resident who attended the meeting, though the session was informative.
The first robbery took place Jan. 12 and the second one took place Jan. 31. The suspect in all three robberies have a similar description and police believe the incidents are linked.
Police also believe the Pelham robberies are linked to robberies that . New York State Crime Stoppers is currently offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrests of person, or people, responsible for the robberies.
“With the perception of crime, Pelham is quite a safe community,” Hotchkiss said. “But we have to realize that we are in a very dense urban area. We’re by three big cities. We’re by the Bronx, we’re by Mount Vernon and we’re by New Rochelle.”
Although there are police patrolling the area, Hotchkiss said it is important for residents to keep their eyes out for anything suspicious and call the police immediately if they see something suspicious.
Pelham Police Chief Joseph Benefico said his department has ratcheted up patrols, with help from the Pelham Manor police department, in the wake of the robberies and is working with other law enforcement agencies to try and solve the case. He said police have picked up some new leads since Wednesday’s incident, but he declined to go into details about what those leads are.
Out of the 25 officers on Pelham’s police force, 13 live in the community and 6 live in communities nearby, according Benefico. He said those officers have very close ties to the community and have personal interest in making sure the robber is caught.
“Don’t think we don’t care,” Benefico said. “We are committed to this community. We are personally involved in this community. Most of us, the 13 of us, have raised our children in this community. In one particular case, my daughter has babysat for one of the victims of one of these crimes. So we’re involved, we’re here, we see it and we feel it.”
Some community members expressed frustration because they believed that the robber had already been caught. Pelham police arrested last month and said he was a person of interest due to the fact that he had a gun in his possession and a history of committing armed robberies in the past.
But police said they haven’t found anything linking that man to the armed robberies in Pelham.
Other people who attended Saturday’s meeting expressed concern over the speed at which the villages alerts go out to the public. Options like Nixle, a tool that enables public safety agencies to send text and e-mail alerts, and the Pelham school district’s notification system were also mentioned as ways to get timely alerts out to residents.
Another resident also mentioned the possibility of hiring retired police officers on part-time basis to try and beef up patrols. Hotchkiss said that was unlikely.
“We’re not really big on retired policemen because there might be some sort of altercation and we prefer to have the force that we have,” Hotchkiss said.
The idea of the police helping to organize a community watch that utilized trained residents to patrol the community and call the police when there’s trouble was brought up.
Chief Benefico said the idea of a community watch was brought up at an earlier community meeting that , but the idea kind of fell by the wayside. Although he has concerns about sending residents out to patrol the neighborhood in cars, Benefico said liked the idea of people staying on the lookout and being aware of their surroundings.
Benefico said he is willing to meet with residents to discuss the formation of neighborhood watch group if they reach out to him.
Trustee Paul McGoldrick said the community also needed to discuss ways the community can protect itself from crime in the future. He said even if the person responsible for the current rash of robberies is caught, the same situation can happen again in the future.
“What do we do?,” McGoldrick said. “What are willing to accept as a community? Do we want to start having cameras on our corners? Do we? If we do, that’s great. Then we should do that. But that’s the kind of conversation we should have.”
Robert Keller, the director of New York State Crime Stoppers and a Pelham resident, said that communities throughout Westchester County are dealing with crime and police departments need to be given the resources to respond.
“This is the sign of the times,” Keller said. “Not only here. New Rochelle, which has a much bigger police force than Pelham does, is getting hit pretty hard with robberies, also. Not only from this guy, but from many different people. Mount Vernon is getting killed with robberies. Other communities are getting killed and part of the problem is budgetary.”
Anyone who has information regarding the robberies or who sees something suspicious can contact Pelham police at (914) 738-2000.
Resident interested in signing up for the Village of Pelham’s e-mail alert system can do so by going here. A list of safety tips can be found in the PDF to the right of this story.