The bagpiped strains of “God Bless America” filled North Ferris Street as Chief Michael Cerone exited Irvington police headquarters on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 11.
Members of police departments from around Westchester County, along with Irvington officials and residents, stood outside to salute Cerone, whose 45-year career in law enforcement, including 42 years in Irvington, was ending because he was approaching 70, the mandatory retirement age.
“The turnout here is a sign of respect for a man who’s always had respect for law enforcement and the Village of Irvington,” Mayor Brian Smith said. He added that although calls from the chief were often not to deliver good news, “I always knew I had someone who was very capable, calm, and up to whatever the task was that presented itself.”
In a heartfelt farewell speech, Cerone thanked local officials, as well as volunteer fire department and ambulance corps members, for their service and cooperation through the years.
“Finally,” Cerone said, “I didn’t do this alone. I wish to thank all the members of the Irvington Police Department for their service. It has been an honor to be chief of the department and to come to know all of you, both personally and professionally.” He also thanked his colleagues’families and spouses for their support and sacrifice.
Cerone, who formerly lived in the village but now resides in Ossining, told the Enterprise that he looks forward to traveling and visiting relatives around the country once Covid-related restrictions are lifted.
He became fascinated with police work while watching the 1950s TV series “Dragnet.” Before his first police job, he served in the U.S. Navy, spending two years on active duty and four years in the naval reserves. He joined the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department (now part of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety) in 1976.
Three years later, he was hired by the Irvington Police Department. Change, he recalled, had been “constant” since then.
“When I came on the job here in 1979, the population was between 2,500 and 2,700, and now it’s 6,700 to 7,000,” he said. “There were approximately 18 officers and now there are 23.”
Policing technology also evolved. When he was first hired, local police departments were on the same radio frequency, so they heard each other’s calls. Nowadays, each department has its own radio frequency. Police vehicles are also outfitted with high-tech camera systems.
The Irvington police department is getting closer to equipping all its officers with body cameras, according to Cerone. “We’re working toward that goal,” he said, referring to talks with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which is the rank-and-file’s union.
“I don’t really see it as being a burden on any side,” he explained. “It’s a good working tool, preventing unnecessary complaints. You can just go to the video and see what occurs. That makes it a better tool than just getting videos from other people’s cameras.”
Infrequently during his tenure, the comparative calm of Irvington was interrupted by violence. In 2015, a man stabbed a woman at the Metro-North train station until then-Fire Chief Chris DePaoli, who witnessed the attack, held off the assailant with a baseball bat until police arrived. In 2018, a kitchen worker fatally stabbed a longtime prep cook at the River City Grille on Broadway.
On a daily basis, though, much of the department’s work involves building relationships within the community — “the seniors, the high-schoolers, and the whole school district,” Ceroneexplained. “It’s progressive.”
This year, all police departments in New York State are under orders from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to examine their policies and procedures, with a critical eye toward improving their relationships with civilians, especially minorities.
On Feb. 17, Cerone was replaced by Lt. Frank Pignatelli, a member of the Irvington Police Department since 2011 and of the Greenburgh SWAT Team since 2012.