It happened 32 years ago. But for Brian Fanelli the memory remains crystal clear.
In 1981, fulfilling a childhood dream, he had just been hired as a Mount Pleasant police officer by then-Chief Paul Oliva. “As I was walking out of his office,” Fanelli recalls, “I stopped, turned, and said, ‘Just so you know, someday I will be sitting in that chair.’ ”
Today, fulfilling his brash prediction, Fanelli becomes only the sixth chief in the history of the Mount Pleasant Police Department. Fanelli succeeds Louis Alagno, who has been chief for the past 12 years, a sometimes turbulent time that included a tornado, major hurricane and the fatal shooting of Danroy Henry, the Pace University football player, by a Pleasantville police officer, a case Fanelli inherits.
The Valhalla native also inherits a department markedly different from the one he joined. Even as Mount Pleasant’s population has grown, the department’s manpower has declined; officers have gone from the personal contact of walking sidewalks in Valhalla and Thornwood to riding in cars, solo, stretching resources to cover a beat of almost 28 square miles.
“In the Chief Oliva era, it was really get out there and associate with the public and really get to know each other,” Fanelli remembers. “But the times have changed.”
In this tax-cap era—when state restrictions limit how much can be raised through property taxes, and thus what a town can spend on, say, public safety—the force has fewer police officers. Their numbers have dropped from a peak of 47, and even the 42 when Fanelli started, to 40 today, leaving the department sometimes hard-pressed to keep up with calls.
“If we’re very busy at a particular time,” Fanelli says, “we might have five, six cars on calls.”
Such situations have demanded all-hands responses by the police. “It’s not uncommon for one of the lieutenants, or a detective, to run out on a call if there are no patrol cars available,” Fanelli acknowledges. “Even the chief of police has gone on calls if we’re very busy.”
Despite all that, Fanelli insists, “we’re definitely providing professional police services. But we’d like to provide more.”
The new chief knows that will first require a wholesale turnaround in the economy. “That [return to walking beats] is something I would like to see, for the community to get to know us again.” But, he concedes, “it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to build up our personnel again.”
Meanwhile, Fanelli will leverage the timesaving capabilities of another major difference in policing since the Oliva era: technological innovation. Fanelli, who oversees the department’s technology, points to the growing use of such things as cameras and computers. “We’ve had car computers since about 1998, and they’ve been very useful,” he says, noting their presence today in 15 patrol cars. In addition, the department’s car-mounted license plate reader automatically scans the tags on vehicles it passes, sending back immediate, real-time alerts if it finds stolen suspended or suspicious plates, or drivers.
Fanelli, who married 12 days after joining the department and now has two grown children, is a 1977 graduate of Valhalla High School. He subsequently earned a bachelor of science in police science at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.
Looking back on more than three decades in blue, Fanelli says, “There’s nothing else I would want to do,” remembering that “since I was a little boy I always wanted to be a police officer.”
“Truthfully, my career has been exciting; the whole 32 years have been rewarding,” he says. “Just the thrill of running after and catching bad guys is what I live for.”