Officer Elena Chemas had just run from her sixth grade Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) class to the West New York Police Department to see her long-awaited new ride.
“I feel like a little kid,” she said, hardly able to contain her excitement. “The old Jeep wouldn’t even start up most of the time, and the kids are really going to get a kick out of this.”
The Jeep Liberty, which had been used by a commissioner from the previous administration, had been repainted by resident and former graffiti artist Nelson Cepeda, who donated his talents for free. He covered the car with boxing gloves (to help kids fight drugs, he said), the schools’ mascot tiger, the Formula One racing logo, an American Bald Eagle, and the D.A.R.E. logo.
The Jeep was one of five former commissioner vehicles that Mayor Felix Roque, Police Director Michael Indri, and the town’s current commissioners decided to donate to the police department, who sorely needed the extra rides, Indri said.
“We’re not just here to enforce the law, but to serve and enrich the community we are charged to protect.” – Michael Indri
“These are our children, and this is our future,” Indri explained. “Elena is doing the work of four men with our D.A.R.E. program, and Nelson is a true role model for those who want to take their talent and do something positive with it. We are truly thankful for his hard work.”
A real PAL
Cepeda will be part of the department’s new Police Athletic League (PAL) program, set to begin in the summer. The Holy Redeemer Church on 65th and Jackson Street has donated their space for the program free of charge.
The PAL is not just sports, according to Indri, though there are plans in the works for an evening basketball league. It will be a more comprehensive program aimed at keeping kids busy and off the streets.
Indri envisions Cepeda teaching art to students in the PAL program, “Whether he wants to or not,” he laughed.
Cepeda, who has three children of his own in the school system, definitely wants to.
“If we help the kids, we help the community,” Cepeda said. “We’ll make things happen, there is no doubt.”
D.A.R.E. to be different
“We’ve never had anything like this before,” Indri said, in reference to three things: the new vehicles, the PAL program, and the D.A.R.E. program. Chemas currently teaches the drug resistance curriculum to fifth graders, but next year the program will be expanded to the sixth grade. D.A.R.E. has ready-made curriculum available for kindergarten through twelfth grades, but like everything requiring manpower, Indri said, implementing such an extensive program can get pricey.
“When the kids move to sixth grade, they enter middle school, and all the craziness with confidence and self-esteem that comes from mingling with an older crowd,” Chemas said. “With D.A.R.E. classes in both grades, they’ll be more prepared to deal with all of that.”
“D.A.R.E. has sort of been the redheaded stepchild of the department,” Indri explained. “We had to put the 2002 Jeep Wrangler out of service it was so bad.”
The refurbished Jeep has blue and red flashing lights in the front grill and a siren to boot, which Chemas happily demonstrated to the crowd that Friday.
“I did it for the town, and I did it for the kids,” Cepeda said. “I want them to know that art can take you places. It certainly has for me.”
Show me the funding
So how will the department afford these new programs during a time when tightening the financial belt seems to be the theme in Washington and the state these days?
“We’ve cut the fat,” Mayor Felix Roque said. “It was unacceptable that the taxpayers had to pay for the luxury of all five commissioners with work vehicles in a 1.3 square mile town. We had to give them back to the people.”
The other four vehicles – which include two sedans and two SUVs – will go to the street crimes unit, the juvenile unit, and the investigative bureau for undercover work, Indri said.
“It was fiscal irresponsibility, pure and simple,” Roque said. “We ended the nonsense and put the vehicles to good use.”
“All of these steps in the right direction have taken a lot of work from a lot of great and caring people,” Indri concluded. “We’re not just here to enforce the law, but to serve and enrich the community we are charged to protect.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com