Hector Santiago

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Stories From Main Street: 'Stop & Shake' Bridges Divide Between Police, Community In Yonkers

June 10, 2018 - 5:58 pm

YONKERS, N.Y. (WCBS 880) -- On some of the main streets of Yonkers, improving police-community relations starts with the simplest of gestures.

As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported, distrust, suspicion, and acrimony lurk in the dark recesses of some inner cities. Tension festers and police and the community don’t always get along.

But one young man is trying to bridge the divide – one handshake at a time.

Hector Santiago
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

‘Stop & Shake’ is, I like to consider it a social icebreaker,” said Hector Santiago, 30. “In Yonkers, they call me ‘Hector the connector,’ you know, everyone knows me.”

Everyone knows him as the man who brought the police and the people together.

“I just remember saying, you know, if you can stop and frisk someone off of a potential appearance or just like a subconscious bias, you can look at someone and say: ‘Hey, look, let me introduce myself. Let me stop and shake your hand, you know, and build this relationship, because potentially, we may run into each other later,’” Santiago said.

Santiago said Stop & Shake can allow for officers to have a conversation with the public – often as a de-escalation tool.

Hector Santiago
Stop & Shake

In his youth, Santiago ran into the police – but not in a good way.

“I was a gang member till about 22 – when I had my first daughter – and that was kind of where my turning point was,” he said.

Santiago turned from a life of crime to one of community activism.

“I’m just grateful I’m not behind bars or under the ground,” he said.

Hector Santiago
Stop & Shake

It was a tough sell at first, but Stop & Shake community get-togethers are now a staple of the Yonkers Police Department.

“The officers are just there introducing themselves; getting to know the residents. The residents are encouraged to come; say what’s up. Business owners come. Organizations come. So it’s a real, just like, unity in the community type of thing,” Santiago said.

Santiago is studying to be a social worker. He walked from Yonkers to Albany to raise awareness about mental health issues, and for his effort, the Westchester Health Department gave him an award.

He is also writing a book, “How Depression Made Me Successful.”

It is an amazing transformation, and it all started with the birth of his daughter.

“Ever since then, I’ve just been on this mission to be a better father; to be a better community member; to  be a better man,” he said.