City of New Rochelle employees have informed Talk of the Sound that a Community Service Officer working for the New Rochelle Police Department has, on three separate occasions, attempted to pull over and detain drivers for alleged traffic violations such as running a red-light and aggressive driving. In each instance the Community Service Officer was driving a police department “code enforcement” vehicle with amber lights. The workers who came forward asked not to be identified.
Community Service Officer (CSO’s) are not sworn officers and do not carry guns. They are not certified by the State of New York and have no powers of arrest. They can issue ordinance violations and parking tickets, but can not detain someone.
Talk of the Sound has independently identified the CSO as Elmo Palomino.
Palomino has worked for the NRPD as a CSO since May 1990. According to Freedom of Information Request filed by the Journal News, Palomino earns a salary of $48,558. With overtime and a uniform and equipment stipend his total income in 2007 was reported as $49,523. Palomino reports to Police Sergeant Myron Joseph. Attempts to reach Sergeant Joseph were unsuccessful.
NRPD Police Lieutenant George Marshall did confirm to Talk of the Sound that CSOs are not authorized to make traffic stops or detain people. Marshall stated he would not comment on whether there was or was not an internal investigation and declined to comment on any of the specifics of the complaints received by Talk of the Sound. Marshall asked that anyone with such a complaint contact him at 914-654-2300.
The most recent incident occurred early this month near the Trump Tower on Huguenot Street in downtown New Rochelle. Talk of the Sound was informed that Palomino pulled up behind the vehicle of a City worker driving their personal vehicle but still dressed in their City attire. Palomino is alleged to have switched on the amber lights of his Code Enforcement vehicle in what the driver understood to be an attempt to pull him over. Aware that a CSO does not have authority to make traffic stops, the City worker says he ignored Palomino. When the driver failed to pull over, Palomino reportedly pursued the driver, catching up with him at the next red traffic light on Huguenot. The City worker says that Palomino motioned for him to roll down his window prompting the worker to get out of his vehicle to confront Palomino. The worker says Palomino accused him of “driving like a mad man” and threatened to report the City worker to his supervisor. The City worker says that after a heated exchange, he got in his car and left Palomino at the scene.
Routine traffic stops can be dangerous. Police are required to follow a protocol in making traffic stops, approaching vehicles and interacting with drivers and passengers. The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the inherent danger to police officers in making traffic stops. In Maryland v. Wilson the Court went so far as to rule that the danger to police during a routine traffic stop outweighs the Fourth Amendment rights of the driver and any passengers.
An NRPD Community Service Officer typically services in a support role for sworn police officers. Within NRPD there are two types of CSOS; “inside CSOs” that largely perform clerical duties and “outside CSOs” that write parking tickets, serve as crossing guards and otherwise perform functions that do not require full police powers. An outside CSO might support in crime prevention, investigation, and response where full police powers are unnecessary and assists police officers in upholding law and order. They do not have authority to make arrests. Palomino has been working as an “outside CSO”.
According to Wikipedia the CSO concept came into vogue in the United States in the economic downturn of the 1970’s when municipalities were looking for ways to maintain the number of sworn police officers on the street while keeping costs down.
Most Community Service Officers are non-sworn, civilian, positions without powers of arrest and do not carry firearms due to liability issues. Some CSOs are authorized to carry non-lethal weapons such as batons or pepper spray, and do receive training in self defense tactics. Many departments authorize their CSOs to issue traffic and civil infraction citations in the course of accident investigations. At some agencies, the first year of the job is primarily clerical, with little field work. The amount of training a CSO receives will vary by state, and even by local jurisdiction within a state.
The current climate within larger police agencies is that they are becoming increasingly constrained because of budgetary concerns and the need to serve a larger or growing community. In this environment, the position of the CSO is considered a blessing for both the departments and communities they serve in. CSOs typically are paid significantly less than sworn officers, allowing departments to field more people for the same amount of money. This has the synergistic effect of providing quicker response times to citizen requests for police services. Further, CSOs usually handle lower priority calls which do not require an armed police officer with arrest powers freeing sworn officers to concentrate on those incidents requiring their specific skill set. Even a few CSOs can have a significant impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of police services that departments provide.
Most departments distinguish the CSO’s from normal police officers in a variety of ways, however the two most common are uniform and vehicle. Uniforms vary by department, examples being neon Yellow(similar to the color of some traffic vests), a lighter blue color, or in some cases white. Issued vehicles for Community Service Officers often identify the individual as a CSO via decals on the vehicle. The lighting on the CSO vehicles is also different, though the color combinations vary by department. Examples include amber only lights in Jacksonville, Fl., or red/amber colors in St. Johns County, Fl.,Orlando, Fl. uses police red and clear color lights. Vehicle type is also department and locale specific. Jacksonville uses the Chevy Malibu and Chevy Impala, Orlando uses the Ford Crown Victoria and Chevy Impala, and St. Johns County utilizes the Chevy Impala, as well as different models of Pickup and Sport Utility vehicles for the CSO’s.