Just a month after avoiding a lawsuit threatened by the Southampton Patrolman’s Benevolent Association over the issue of forced retirement for senior personnel, the town has been hit with legal action by the PBA regarding the status of four undercover officers assigned to the department’s Street Crimes Unit.
According to PBA attorney Seth Greenberg of Greenberg Burzichelli Greenberg in Lake Success, New York State Civil Service Law mandates that police officers assigned to 18 months of detective or investigative work be promoted to detective status. That hasn’t happened to the four officers in question.
The lawsuit, which was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on December 12, lists the four officers in question as “John Does.” PBA President Pat Aube said it was necessary to withhold the identity of the officers due to the nature of their undercover work.
Along with appointing the officers to detective, the PBA is seeking to grant them “all rights, benefits and privileges under the PBA’s collective bargaining agreement” and “paying the officers the appropriate detective’s salary,” according to the lawsuit. Additionally, Mr. Greenberg wants the officers to be compensated for any increase in pay they should have received after they reached the 18-month mark.
“We would rather not litigate,” Mr. Greenberg said. “It is always better to resolve labor relations without going to court. But in this case, the law is very clear in our opinion.”
Mr. Greenberg added that overtures to Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and Police Chief James Overton were made, but were unsuccessful. On July 15, Mr. Aube wrote a letter addressed to the supervisor and the chief citing Section 59-a of the civil service code, which is the foundation for the lawsuit, and requested that the four officers be duly promoted.
Mr. Aube and Mr. Greenberg said they received no formal response from Ms. Kabot or Chief Overton.
“What they are saying is that narcotics investigators should become detectives,” Chief Overton said, adding he did not agree with the PBA’s interpretation of the law. However, due to pending litigation, the chief said he could not comment further on the matter.
Ms. Kabot said she wasn’t familiar enough with the lawsuit to comment on the merits of the case, but did say that now was not the time for a legal fight.
“There’s a $4.5 million deficit in the police fund from overspending and underfunded entitlements,” she said. “To sit here and litigate over more so-called entitlements, to fend off accusations of improper management, to hire outside special counsel is not cheap for the taxpayers.”
According to Ms. Kabot, three-quarters of police personnel make more than $100,000 a year. “They certainly put their life on the line, but they are paid well,” the supervisor said. “We are very proud of them, but quibbling about how many days some officers worked undercover to get more pay pushes the limit of our patience.”
Ms. Kabot added the town would vigorously defend its management staff.
Town Attorney Dan Adams said it was too premature for him to comment on the case, but said the suit had already been referred to Vince Toomey, the town’s special counsel for labor relations.
“He will be answering on our behalf and we will be discussing the matter,” Mr. Adams said. “Until then, I just can’t offer any substantive comments.”
In 1987, the Street Crimes Unit was modified by then Police Chief Conrad Teller to deal with the high volume of felony narcotics crimes in Southampton. Prior to that, according to the suit, the unit operated essentially as a misdemeanor squad and was considered a subsidiary of the Detective Division. The suit further states, “Today, however, it is an independent, established narcotics unit handling all drug related crimes and other vice-type crimes.”
Though the papers have already been filed, Mr. Greenberg reiterated that he was open to resolving the dispute out of court.
“It is always this law firm’s opinion that settling without litigation is best for everybody,” he said. “But in this case, the law says what it says.”