The patch of woods along the Peconic River where prostitutes take their johns.
The block with the known gang hideout.
The vacant house where junkies squat, stash and shoot up.
Bryan Cobb knows these spots in the hamlets of Flanders and Riverside like the back of his hand, like he’s been here his whole life.
That’s because he has.
A lifelong Flanders resident, Officer Cobb has been a member of the Southampton Town Police Department since 2008 and has spent many of his shifts patrolling the neighborhoods he grew up in, an area of the town that’s diametrically opposed to almost every stereotype attached to “The Hamptons.”
Officer Cobb tackled one of these shifts on Friday evening as he rolled through the normal hotbeds of nighttime activity in the Flanders-Riverside sector of town. Throughout the night, he made five traffic stops for various minor offenses—a broken plate lamp here, not wearing a seatbelt there, car windows that were illegally tinted, a muffler that was too noisy, and speeding—but he wrote no citations this night. Rather, he let the offenders off with stern warnings and demands that they fix the violations and slow down.
For him, there are bigger problems to focus on than traffic infractions and vehicle code violations, namely narcotics.
“I’m not just out here to write tickets for DWIs or watch the clock and collect a paycheck,” he said as his patrol continued on Friday.
For him, it is much more personal. It’s a challenge to find the more serious offenders and clean the streets of drugs in his hometown. Police can, and do, find drugs anywhere, he said, although he acknowledges that Riverside and Flanders do have more problem areas than the rest of the town, much of which he attributes to spill-over from nearby Riverhead.
Officer Cobb said he makes about nine or 10 arrests a month, noting that many are drug-related and most stem from those seemingly minor traffic stops, anything that gives him a chance to talk to people.
“You can tell a lot from talking to somebody,” he said. “Everybody is nervous when they get pulled over, but some people are extra nervous, and there are other things I’ve learned to look for.”
The radio was quiet for much of the night, at least in his sector of the town on Friday. There were no noise complaints or reports of erratic drivers. Instead, Officer Cobb drove through the darkened streets around Wildwood Lake in Northampton and later took to alleyways around the Riverside traffic circle on foot, searching for suspicious activity.
He prefers it this way. He explained that he likes having the freedom to chase down his own leads without being tied up by smaller incidents.
Headlights off, Officer Cobb pulled into a driveway off the traffic circle that opened up to a parking lot. It was about 10 p.m. He then made his way through the shadows and toward the woods to the rear of the lot, where an opening in the fence provided him with a spot to scale a wall and access a small knoll behind a Valero gas station—a common hangout for druggies and winos, Officer Cobb explained. It was also a prime vantage point for spotting other illegal activity in the area.
After observing nothing suspicious, Officer Cobb moved on to the next parking lot over. As he rolled through in his sector car, he came across four men, all with open alcohol containers, standing together. As he circled past and approached the lot’s exit, one of the men let out a cry that mimicked a bird’s coo—a gang call, Officer Cobb said, likely alerting others of his presence. Officer Cobb radioed a nearby Community Response Unit, requesting backup so he could approach the group, but none was available. He deemed the task to risky for a lone officer, so he opted to continue his patrol.
It was a slow night in the sector otherwise, at least during the Friday night shift. Absent were belligerent subjects and the foot chases, making the ride-along experience far different from those depicted on reality TV—with the exception of one woman who flashed her breasts at a pair of officers while they searched her during another officer’s traffic stop.
Officer Cobb made no arrests that night. No shots were fired and no one tried to flee. Still, the shift was an eye-opening experience not for the major incidences, but for the subtleties that go into policing such an area.
Officer Cobb could point out a known drug trafficker hanging out by a bus stop and a gang leader waiting in line at the McDonald’s drive-thru window. He swept just about every dead-end street in Flanders in a manner of 30 minutes and from the corner of his eye could spot a reason to pull someone over.
Officer Cobb said he prefers the night shift. When most cars have left the roads and most people are in bed, he’d rather be in his car, patrolling the streets, searching for drugs and trying to arrest the people who are dealing them.
“When the sun goes down, that’s when the animals come out,” he said.