Residents Complain About Trouble at Local Youth Center

Residents on a quiet Westchester block are growing increasingly concerned about a local treatment center for youth with mental and emotional problems, with one calling it a "nightmare that's gotten worse and worse over the years."

Neighbors are meeting with local leaders and police Monday night to call for more security at The Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Treatment Center, which they say has been attracting more trouble recently. 

"It's dangerous. They are fighting with police, fighting with counselors," said Ken Bartone, a 40-year resident who lives across the street from the center.

On Saturday, police arrested three girls for trying to light a counselor a fire. The arrest came just 12 hours after dozens of students at the neighboring Cedar Knolls School caused a riot and even attacked police officers. 

"It is scary to think of the things they do to the teachers and run away," said Sotann Surace of Hawthorne. 

Residents are also concerned about the spike in violence at the Pleasantville Cottage School.

"Police calls can average three to 10 times a day between the two facilities," said Town Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi.

Fulgenzi wrote a letter calling for the state to intervene. He says there's no campus security.

The Jewish Board of Children and Families Services, which runs Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, says its staff-to-youth ratio meets state requirements, and in some cases, exceeds them.

It also says it's aware of the community's concerns and that it has installed additional security cameras and new key-operated fire alarms so that teens stop pulling false alarms.

The youth at the residential center have all suffered some form of major trauma, including physical and sexual abuse, neglect or other loss, the board says, and the staff are all specially trained to deal with them.

But, it added in a statement, "state rules and regulations actually prevent our staff from physically stopping our residents from leaving the campus. We are not allowed to restrain or physically stop any child from walking off the grounds. When we are unable to convince a child not to leave, a staff member will follow them and work to convince them to return." 

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