More than 60 community members turned out for an impromptu meeting called by multiple civic organizations in Flanders on Thursday night, October 10, to address concerns stemming from a threatening encounter a Glen Avenue woman had last week with a suspicious man driving a beige car.
Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Michael Zarro, who attended the meeting with two other officers, addressed community concerns regarding last Friday’s incident, in which Flanders resident Robin Southard said a man followed her while she was on her morning bike ride, pursuing her through the Bayview Pines neighborhood and across the lawn of a vacant house on Temple Avenue, where she had tried to take cover. Ms. Southard told The Press on Monday that the man stepped out of his car, coming within feet of her as she dialed 911, before he fled.
The primary concern some residents had with the police is why a notice or alert was not issued after Ms. Southard reported the incident in the early morning hours of October 4. Lt. Zarro stated that based on her initial complaint—which did not include details about the man driving across the lawn of the home, stepping out of his car or Ms. Southard’s feeling that she could have been abducted—it was not immediately clear that a crime had actually occurred.
“It wasn’t reported as a criminal complaint,” Lt. Zarro said. “At this point, it’s a suspicious incident, we’re looking into it and I’ve directed more patrols to the area.”
Lt. Zarro said the 5:30 a.m. incident could have been completely innocent, perhaps a newspaper delivery person distributing the morning paper, or it could have been something threatening, but it wasn’t clear based on the information Ms. Southard originally provided to the department.
Ms. Southard did not attend last night’s meeting at the David Crohan Community Center on Flanders Road because she was tending to a family issue, according to Meigan Rocco, a friend of Ms. Southard who also is the Flanders-Riverside columnist for The Press.
Janice Young, president of the Bayview Pines Civic Association, said during the meeting that regardless of whether what happened last week was a crime or not, it should serve as a reminder for residents to be vigilant, adding that it is an opportunity to look at how the community can be proactive when it comes to safety issues.
Although neighborhood watch signs are posted throughout Bayview Pines—including one not far from where Ms. Southard tried to take cover—Ms. Young said there is not an official watch at this time, “They’re really just there,” she said of the signs. “Perhaps they help, but right now we do not have one.”
A sign-up sheet was circulated for people interested in joining the watch, which Lt. Zarro said requires a commitment to have someone on duty every night.
Lt. Zarro noted that there is a suspected drug operation being run out of a house on Glen Avenue, down the street from where Ms. Southard lives, that police are actively investigating. Town Police Lieutenant James Kiernan said Wednesday that the car could have a connection to the house, but there’s nothing definitively linking the two at this point.
Tempers flared at times during Thursday night’s meeting as attendees argued about what the proper response should be. Some in attendance criticized the police for not informing the community while others felt the response to the incident caused an unnecessary stir in the community.
Denise Naso, a Flanders mother and treasurer of the Flanders/Riverside/Northampton Citizens Advisory Committee, said Ms. Southard unnecessarily frightened children at a neighborhood bus stop when she went there to warn them about the man and to ask if they’ve seen a beige sedan. Ms. Southard previously said she approached local children after the incident, asking if they had seen the car or the man behind the steering wheel—whom she described as having a dark complexion and standing about 6 feet tall.
Ms. Naso added that some people in the community are putting too much pressure on the police department.
“There’s a million suspicious incidents that happen every day on every block, but we don’t get notified about it,” she said. “If a crime is committed, then we should get an alert. We’re reading too much into this and making ourselves and our children paranoid.”
Richard Naso, Ms. Naso’s father and chair of the citizen’s advisory committee, said the issue should be addressed, but in a controlled manner.
“I think everyone should remain somewhat civil about it, not make it into a witch hunt,” Mr. Naso said of the ongoing search for the man by some community members, including Ms. Southard. “It is important to bring awareness to the situation and we shouldn’t fall into some sort of complacency.”
Vickie Farrugia, president of the Water’s Edge Civic Association, said the turnout for Thursday’s meeting was heartening, adding that she hopes everyone does their part to keep themselves and the community as a whole aware of incidents such as this.
“The turnout tonight speaks to the concern in both communities about what happened,” Ms. Farrugia said, adding that “the world is changing and I think we need to be a little bit more alert.”
Various other solutions and strategies for safety were discussed during the meeting, ranging from photographing suspicious activity with cellphones to carrying a whistle when running, walking or biking alone.
Lt. Zarro said the most important thing neighbors can do is contact police if they see any sort of suspicious activity, whether it appears to be criminal or not, adding that people can do this anonymously.
“If you see something, call 911,” he said.