In anticipation of last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, Chief Joseph Burton invited the members of the Ossining Police Department to attend and provide him moral support. He didn’t say why. After 24 years as Chief of Police, Joseph Burton announced he’ll be retiring at the end of the year. Click here to watch the Chief’s moving comments which begin around 19 minutes into the meeting. Following the Chief’s comments I had the honor of announcing that Kevin Sylvester will lead the department beginning on January 1, 2016.
Below are my remarks, written pretty much as I delivered them. Chief Burton determined the way that news of this transition would roll out. Following my remarks, we all took a break to shake hands and snap pictures. Then the dozens of OPD members that had filled the courtroom, headed around the corner to OFD headquarters for pizza. When our meeting finished, the Trustees and I, along with new Village Manager Abe Zambrano joined them for a slice.
Chief Joseph Burton began his career with the Ossining Police Department in August of 1967—before three members of this Board were even born. He considers himself to have had “two careers” in the department. The first was twenty four years as a Patrolman, Sergeant, Lieutenant, and then Captain—working in the Patrol, Records, and Youth Divisions. It was during that first career the he became a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy.
Joseph Burton’s second career spans twenty four years as Chief of the Ossining Police Department. During his tenure he was instrumental in implementing the D.A.R.E. Program in our schools. The relationship he has established with our schools is perhaps his greatest work in crime reduction. In a conversation I had with the Chief very soon after I became a trustee he told me, “once a crime has been committed, we’ve already failed.” A big part of Chief Burton’s effectiveness, and the reason Ossining keeps finding itself on the list of safest places to live, comes from the 40 years Chief Burton has dedicated to our young people as a coach for the Ossining High School Football Program and as an active member of the Ossining Police Athletic League, which supports various youth programs. Chief Burton plays the long game. He recognizes that preventing kids from beginning a life of crime is the only real path for crime reduction.
For relative new comers to village government, it’s hard imagine the Police Department and Court were all squeezed into 16 Croton Avenue together. Chief Burton oversaw the construction and transition of department headquarters from Village Hall to the Birdsall-Fagan Police & Court Facility. No doubt the business degree he earned early in his career as chief, was a big help to the making this facility function so well today. This building is a testament to his incredible leadership, his ability to think big and effect real positive change for our community, and his very high regard for the members of this police department.
Chief Burton is Ossining’s longest serving chief. And we are grateful that he has put in place a plan for a smooth transition to the next leader of the department.
This board, in our capacity as the Board of Police Commissioners, underwent a thorough deliberative process to determine who would be the next Chief of the Ossining Police Department. In fact, our process mirrors the approach that Chief Joseph Burton has implemented for recent promotions to sergeant and lieutenant. In doing so, we had the opportunity to speak with many members of the department, including all of the administrators at length. We were so impressed by the leadership team that Chief Burton has assembled—the dedication, skills, and insights of the captain and all the lieutenants was beyond what we even imagined. Ossining is incredibly fortunate to have this core group of leaders in our Police Department.
This Board has asked Lieutenant Kevin Sylvester to become the next chief of the Ossining Police Department. Following the timeline and the manner recommended by Chief Burton, on New Years Day Kevin Sylvester will be sworn into office at the inauguration. I hope you will all join us for this community event.
Kevin Sylvester’s rise to this leadership position is a testament to not only his intellectual capabilities, but his remarkable leadership skills and work ethic. Each day Lt Sylvester dedicates himself to finding ways to better serve the Ossining community, and in doing so he inspires his colleagues on the police force.
For Kevin Sylvester, simply accomplishing great things during his full time job as a patrol officer, sergeant and lieutenant in the Ossining Police Department, was not enough to satisfy desire for achievement. His drive for personal success led him to become the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Training Division for the United States Marine Corps Reserve. And after completing his Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice, the then-Patrol Sergeant Sylvester began working on his Law Degree, which he earned this spring. We wish Lieutenant Sylvester the best of luck on his bar exam in July. When that’s over, he’s going to start studying for the Chief’s exam which he will take next spring, so that we can make his provisional appointment to Chief permanent.
This Board is united in our vision for a police department that continues to deepen community connections through innovation and a dedication to a local police force. Lieutenant Sylvester demonstrates an ability to be fair and consistent; he leads by example; and he has a clear vision for the future of this department.
I have been reminded many times during this process that the relationship between politicians and police has not always been one of openness, trust and a shared sense of duty to our community. That is changing, at least for Ossining. At a time when the news is filled with tragic stories of violence, anger and mistrust, the Ossining Police Department is recognized for its heroism and dedication to community policing. We know that the “storybook department” as we were described during an accreditation report years ago under the leadership of Chief Joseph Burton, will continue to thrive with Kevin Sylvester at the helm.
We thank you both and this entire department for your incredible service to Ossining.