Those living in Riverside know where to find trouble in their hamlet. They know where the drug deals go down, where the prostitutes congregate and where the homeless set up camp.
One resident warned that during the holiday season robberies become more frequent; another shared that a well-known prostitute, who goes by the name of “Rose,” was looking for business once again.
These observations were shared not with police officers, or at a neighborhood watch meeting. Rather, they were aired during the most recent Riverside Rediscovered meeting held last Thursday, November 6. It was during that meeting, attended by an estimated 30 people, that residents were asked to help create a map showing where crime is taking place in their community.
“Please respect the privacy of your neighbors,” Sean McLean, a Flanders resident and vice president of planning and development for Renaissance Downtowns, the development company hired to oversee revitalization efforts in the hamlet, told those gathered inside the Phillips Avenue Elementary School. “And, please, be brutally honest. Don’t be afraid to give us information.”
Mr. McLean encouraged attendees not to include their names on worksheets distributed at the meeting if they did not feel comfortable doing so. After the short explanation, residents listed the areas where they often see crime taking place, and also included the locations of derelict homes and properties. They also shared the places they visit to work, shop, do their banking and have fun.
As part of their redevelopment and revitalization plan, members of the Riverside Rediscovered team want to map the areas in the hamlet that need the most attention. The “crime maps” will then be presented to the Southampton Town Board when the team presents its action plan to the town in April.
Last week, residents pointed to homeless who often seek refuge between Nugent Drive and Peconic Avenue, just off the northwest corner of the traffic circle, as well as in the woods between Lake and Riverleigh avenues. Prostitutes, they pointed out, often congregate near the McDonald’s on Flanders Road and near the Valero gas station located near the intersection of Peconic Avenue and Flanders Road.
Residents also said they believe drug deals take place on Pine Street, Old Quogue Road and on Riverleigh Avenue.
“It’s scary to think about,” said Terri Holtgrewe, a Flanders resident who volunteers with Riverside Rediscovered. “It’s so sad, too. I went door to door and I saw the really rough conditions of some of the homes.”
There is plenty of police activity in the community. Last month, five men armed with guns and machetes forced their way into a house on Old Quogue Road in Riverside that had been serving as a brothel. Three people—two charged with prostitution and another charged with promoting it—were charged in that crime, though those who burst into the house are still on the loose. Then, late last month, police received reports of at least eight parked cars being broken into along Riverleigh Avenue and Flanders Road, with the suspects breaking windows while stealing loose change and other valuables. No suspects have been identified in that investigation.
And in neighboring Flanders, two men were arrested last month after authorities said they shot and critically injured a 36-year-old Flanders man in a mid-afternoon shooting. In that case, a 33-year-old Mastic Beach man is now facing attempted murder charges.
Residents have been asking for additional police presence for years, and are hoping that will happen in Flanders and Riverside if Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s proposed $88.5 million budget passes. Under her spending plan, the Southampton Town Police Department can expect to hire up to six new police officers over the next two years. Officials at Town Hall, and in the community, have been asking for years to have a second patrol unit dedicated to the two hamlets; it is not yet clear where those new officers will be assigned.
In the interim, Millie Roth, a Riverside resident, suggested that the installation of lights at the traffic circle could also help deter crime. “More lights would make me feel much better,” she said.
Some residents, meanwhile, pointed out that most of the goods and services they need are not readily available in Riverside, forcing them to travel to Riverhead.
“You’re going to see that we’re losing tax dollars,” said Siris Barrios, the community liaison for Riverside Rediscovered. “The community is bleeding.”
In addition to showing where crime is commonplace, the maps created last week will also include the types of businesses and services that locals want to see in their community. Ms. Barrios and Mr. McLean will compile all of the information gathered and eventually present it to the Town Board and Town Police.
“This is the kickoff to help us understand what we want to do in terms of zoning,” said Mr. McLean, whose firm has about five months to finalize its blueprint to revitalize the hamlet.