Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

How Officer Pam Sgroi danced into Peekskill’s heart

How Officer Pam Sgroi danced into Peekskills heart

On January 11, true to her style, Police Officer Pamela (Pam) Sgroi danced her way out of the police department and into retirement. During her 21 years at the Peekskill Police Department, Peekskill residents could count on Officer Pam’s affectionate smile at local events. Her positive vibes were so winning, the community often joined her dance-offs.

Officer Sgroi dancing at National Night Out in Peekskill, August 2023. Photo by Jeffrey Merchan.

Through the city’s Community Policing Unit, Sgroi made it her mission to show residents that police officers are human and approachable. “A lot of time people have this thought process that police officers have to be so stiff. I never liked that,” she said. Over the course of her career, Sgroi assumed a range of roles and responsibilities, working to have a positive impact on the city’s youth, schools, and community. 

The magnitude and breadth of Sgroi’s contributions were apparent in the farewell message written by Sargeant Khalia Carter on behalf of the Peekskill Police Department. 

“Pam, thank you for the 21 beautiful years [of] service you have dedicated to the City of Peekskill and the community members who reside herein… You are one of the rarest members, rare because your significant contributions have left the agency in a much better place and we are so proud of your accomplishments… we are super excited to see what path you dance your way towards as we are certain that the path of your future is paved with success.”

Achieving a Dream 

Sgroi, 42, grew up in Hempstead, Long Island. Even as a young child, Sgroi dreamed of  entering law enforcement. “My younger brother and I would always fight over who was going to be the police officer when we would play cops and robbers,” she recalled. 

Sgroi was driven to make her dream a reality. At 18, though she was too young to be hired at a police department, Sgroi was determined to do everything she could to ensure she had a law enforcement job the minute she turned 21. So she completed the first step any candidate has to take to become a police officer: passing the Police Civil Service Exam (a test that measures a candidate’s general cognitive ability, along with behavioral characteristics and attitudes). Sgroi passed on her first attempt at the New York City and Westchester Exams.

While studying at Pace University, Sgroi maintained her own demanding pace. She completed an internship with the Pleasantville Police Department. There she worked with Juvenile Detective Stephen Bonura, who became her mentor and guide. Sgroi credits Bonura for helping her realize she wanted to do youth-related work as a police officer. At the end of her senior year, Sgroi accelerated her studies, graduating six months early, with a bachelors in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology and Sociology in 2003. 

After months of interviews, Sgroi achieved her dream. She was hired by the Peekskill Police Department on January 17, 2003, becoming the first police officer in her family. And, that same brother, Kenneth, who played “cops and cops” with Sgroi, followed suit a few years later. Kenneth attained the rank of Lieutenant at Yorktown Police Department. He passed away in January 2023, after a sudden illness. 

Sgroi, second row, fourth from right, with her Police Academy class.

 Working, and Dancing, with the Community

During her first five years with the Peekskill Police Department, Sgroi was a patrol officer. But Sgroi’s passion was to get out, and “dance” in the community. She wanted to work with the youth and on youth programs, to teach and inspire the way her mentor Bonura had inspired her. Sgroi trained to become a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) instructor; she taught at schools throughout the area (Hillcrest and Furnace Woods). “My career in Peekskill ended up being a dual thing. I was a police officer but I also worked with kids, I was in schools, I was teaching. I had the best of both worlds,” said Sgroi.

Sgroi youth-related work spanned all ages, from infants to teens to young adults. In 2017, she supported the collaboration between the Peekskill Police Department and the New York Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital to provide free car seat installation services. In 2019, Sgroi began working with special needs children. “I just loved doing those classes. Being able to go in there and spend time with the kids and be able to, in whatever way I could, try to build a friendship with them and get them to recognize police officers.” She says her favorite memory with the children is when they got to dance because they always enjoyed it.

Sgroi also worked with the Westchester County Police Academy to help instruct young recruits. She enjoyed assisting recruits on their path to becoming officers, training them in Domestic Violence, Social Awareness, Implicit Bias, and Cultural Diversity issues. Sgroi was so impactful that surrounding area departments would also often ask her to assist with their training. “My focus was just doing my job to the best of my ability. As well as trying to guide people along the way, the best I could,” said Sgroi.

Sgroi is probably best known for her impactful work for Peekskill’s Community Policing Unit and Youth Police Academy. The Community Policing Unit forges relationships with the community by meeting residents where they are: in schools, the Youth Bureau, and community organizations. The Youth Police Academy allows youths to observe first-hand the daily duties of a police officer. Sgroi took the time to convey her own policing philosophy to them. 

“We as police officers are here to help you. We’re not looking to get you in trouble. We want you to make good choices and come talk to us for good reasons, not bad.”

This past year, Sgroi, Sergeant Khalia Carter, and other directors of the Youth Police Academy, graduated 21 Peekskill youths from their 2-week summer program. In those two weeks, cadets took part in physical agility tests and police training. They joined some 400 other youths that are academy alumni.

Sgroi leading Youth Academy cadets in exercises.

At graduation day last year, Sgroi said, ​​“Being with youth is a huge part of what I’ve always wanted to do as a police officer. I want them to see us as normal everyday people and realize that they can come talk to us, joke around with us, come hang with us but also understand that there’s that respect aspect. We’re police officers but we’re a part of their community.”

A New Path of Duty

When asked what she cherished most about the department, Sgroi responded, “The camaraderie at the department. That’s something that when leaving, I was like ‘Wow, I’m not going to be around these people that I’ve been around for 20 years of my life.’”

Sgroi expressed her gratitude for being able to be a part of the department, more specifically the Community Policing Unit, which allowed her to express herself and give back to the community. She jokingly stated that she hopes the community remembers her most for her dancing.

In addition, Sgroi hopes that in her time as a police officer, she was able to show the community that police officers are real people behind their badge. “As police officers, we have to go into situations that aren’t the most glamorous sometimes. We have to be the people who prevent or stop people from causing harm to other people. But we are still people. We still have that fun, human side to us.”

When asked if residents will still see her at community events, she responded “Yeah. I’m going to balance it a little bit more because being involved with the community, there were times where…it pulled me away from being able to do things with my family. But I still plan on coming out to events, volunteering, and doing things, in order to keep showing my face and be involved.”

Pam and her childhood friend Melissa during the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade a few years ago. Melissa works for the Suffolk County Police Department. This year Pam was an aide to Grand Marshall George Pataki in Peekskill’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. 

As for her beloved Youth Police Academy, Sgroi expressed her desire for that program to keep going. She stated that she would be willing to return, if the department needed guidance or asked her to make a guest appearance.

Although Sgroi has retired from her full-time position, her importance to the Peekskill Police Department was evidenced when the council unanimously passed a resolution to allow the department to hire Sgroi as a contractor until the end of the year. Sgroi will help with Discovery Evidence, a duty she was in charge of while at the department, and will train the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).

In a memo to the Common Council, Chief Dylewski noted Sgroi’s 15 years of CCRB training experience. “When it comes to training, there is no other person who would be able to train the CCRB for this task. She [Sgroi] is open minded and sensitive to the community’s needs. She is respected by her fellow Officers and the Community as a whole.”

“Peekskill was a part of my life for 21 years. I essentially grew up in Peekskill because I was 21 years old when I started working there. Peekskill is a part of me, I’m not just going to walk away from that.”

About the Contributor
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.