West Hampton Dunes Weighs Benefits Of Forming Police Department

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As Sagaponack inches closer to possibly becoming the fifth village in Southampton Town with its own police force, a small village on the other side of the Shinnecock Canal is contemplating a similar measure.

Mayor Gary Vegliante said West Hampton Dunes has been looking into creating a police force of its own to handle the influx of visitors and residents on weekends, especially during the summer months.

Although he said residents are satisfied with the police service now provided by the village constabulary, and claims an “almost flawless record in terms of crime,” Mr. Vegliante said during a recent interview that West Hampton Dunes is communicating with the Suffolk County Civil Services Department about how forming a police department would affect services and costs.

“There’s no hard-packed timetable,” Mr. Vegliante said. “We need to see if the change to a police department outweighs the costs or the effectiveness. We want what’s best for our community and for our department and, right now, everyone is happy with the service we have.”

But that might not be the case forever, he added, which is why the idea of forming a village police department is being kicked around.

The current constabulary, which Mr. Vegliante said was first formed almost two decades ago, has five full-time officers along with additional part-time officers when necessary, the mayor said, all of whom are provided by the village. The village’s police budget for fiscal 2013-14 is $435,338, making public safety—which also includes fire protection—the biggest expense in West Hampton Dunes’ $1.5 million operating budget, at a shade under $600,000.

The primary difference between a police department and constabulary is the types of officers who are employed by both, explained Cynthia DiStefano, the director of classifications with the Suffolk County Civil Services Department. Departments have police officers, whose powers to arrest extend across the state, whereas constabularies have peace officers, whose powers are limited to within the boundaries of their jurisdictions. Both, however, carry weapons and have the authority to arrest those who break the law.

Constabularies are also usually less expensive to operate, at least in principle, because every peace officer is a constable as opposed to police departments, which have chiefs, lieutenants and other ranked officers. The higher the ranking, the higher the pay grade.

“There’s police coverage throughout the East End, but West Hampton Dunes wanted more personalized coverage, more patrols,” Ms. DiStefano said, explaining why officials decided to form their own constabulary in the early 1990s rather than fall under the protection of the Southampton Town Police Department, like Sagaponack Village.

Last year West Hampton Dunes successfully appealed to the state to amend a law that requires constables to live within the area that they police, Ms. DiStefano said. As of August 1, 2012, the village is allowed to hire constables who live within Suffolk County.

Sergeant Brian Hennig, one of the police constabulary’s commanding officers in West Hampton Dunes, declined to comment on the village’s exploration into forming a police department or what such a move could mean for the constabulary employees.

Sagaponack Village has not made a decision about whether it will move forward with forming a police department, but it has been researching and publicly discussing the topic for more than two years. Proponents estimate that a village police department would save taxpayers in that village hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes; Sagaponack residents are scheduled to pay approximately $2.2 million to Southampton Town next year for its police protection.

Mr. Vegliante said he did not want to offer unsolicited advice to Sagaponack Mayor Don Louchheim, but said the circumstances of the two villages are much different, both geographically and financially, as Sagaponack has a smaller operating budget—$789,612 for 2013-14—and is not located on the westernmost end of Dune Road.

“Sagaponack is a different animal, they are much more easily serviced and responded to,” Mr. Vegliante said. “I think the mayor knows what’s best for his village.”

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