Approximately 50 members of the Flanders, Northampton and Riverside communities filled the Southampton Town Hall meeting room on Tuesday, November 24, to demand better police coverage for those neighborhoods.
The request came after several months of increased criminal activity in the area, including a fatal shooting, two home invasions and more than 100 car break-ins.
At the meeting, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst announced a new, recently ratified agreement with the Southampton Town Police Benevolent Association to create a new police schedule, starting in January, that will put more officers in the vicinity, and increase foot patrols so police can better get to know the communities.
“We take very seriously the crime spree that has been happening for several weeks,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.
As part of the new staffing plan, each member of the PBA has volunteered to work an additional four days next year without compensation.
Under the agreement, the police department will be able to assign two additional patrol cars to the Flanders and Riverside area at all times. The switch will also allow six foot-patrol officers to staff the police force’s Community Response Unit, or CRU, without adding to the Southampton Town tax levy.
While members of the community were happy to hear about the changes being made to the police staffing, they were dismayed it took so much crime to make it happen.
“I understand that you are hiring two new police officers, but that is not enough,” one resident, Ron Fisher, said. “We want to see it in Flanders—we want to see it immediately.”
Several residents shared similar thoughts, saying they would believe the town was taking action to help the Flanders and Riverside areas when they see it.
Flanders resident Carl Iacone said the community has taken care of itself in recent months, referring to the formation of a community watch program to patrol the streets. “We have been told a lot of things in Southampton, but nothing has been done,” he said. “The [Big Duck] is crying right now, and with the way the situation is right now, I am surprised they don’t steal the duck.”
Another resident, Susan Tocci, said the problem is not with the police but with the Town Board, which she says has been making promises to the Riverside community for years without following through.
At the meeting, Ms. Tocci detailed a recent experience when she said she called the Southampton Town Police to report suspicious people in the area. It took more than 20 minutes for a police officer to respond to the scene, because he was covering all of Westhampton, Quogue, Flanders and Riverside alone, Ms. Tocci said.
“I was assured that there would be more of a police presence,” she said, referencing a past board meeting at which she complained. “Half an hour is unacceptable on a 911 call.”
At the Southampton Town Board meeting last week, Ms. Throne-Holst read a letter to the audience from PBA President Kevin Gwinn, who said the organization hopes to make significant changes to better protect the community.
“I personally experience the troubles in this neighborhood,” the letter read. “I have seen the troubles, including violent crime and drug trafficking, and I believe there is nothing more powerful than sheer police presence, a presence that not only the residents are asking for but the PBA as well.”
According to Ms. Throne-Holst, in addition to the four days being added to the officers’ schedules next year, there will be additional squad cars sent to the area over the next few weeks. She explained that the new CRU unit system cannot be implemented right away because the police holiday schedule had already been set before the plan for the Riverside area had been agreed to.
One suggestion from Siris Barrios, the community liaison for Riverside Rediscovered—the group working with the Town Board on the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan—is to create an independent task force specifically for human safety and health. Riverside is changing, she said, but something needs to be done now to attract more people, as well as to protect residents who are already there.
“Revitalization is coming,” she said. “But it is not happening now. Some of the residents have a strategy for a more coordinated effort; we need to address this as a public effort.”