Editorial: Optimistic over DA’s Southampton police probe

05/31/2012 7:59 AM |

When news of potential government scandal breaks, it’s usually because someone is doing something about it — either prosecutors, newspapers, regular citizens or forces within the particular agency whose members are accused of wrongdoing. While such news is often disturbing and disheartening, residents can at least take solace in the fact that an effort is being made to fix things. And in some cases, wrongs are being righted.

That appears to be the case with the Southampton Town Police Department, which has been embroiled in an alleged scandal involving potential document-shredding and worse: wrongful convictions with the help of allegedly corrupt officers within the department’s now-disbanded Street Crime Unit.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota — who is investigating the department — announced Friday that two drug arrests and convictions are being reversed, one involving a Riverhead man. While the allegations are ugly, the DA’s investigation of the department, along with recent personnel changes there, will only help improve policing in the Riverhead area. Signs of that are already apparent.

Take the deployment of the newly formed Suffolk County East End DWI Task Force. The task force, overseen by the DA’s office, involves 10 town, village, county and state police departments as well as the sheriff’s office — all working together to help set up sobriety checkpoints and beef up DWI patrols. As a result, cops took some 30 alleged drunken drivers off Riverhead and Southampton roads this holiday weekend.

This comes on the heels of news that the Southampton Police Department has finally agreed to participate in the DA’s East End Task Force, which allows members from participating East End police agencies to share cops and undercover resources to find help getting drugs off our streets. The DA had been lobbying for years during the tenure of former Southampton police chief James Overton for Southampton cops to participate, but to no avail. Mr. Overton instead preferred his own Street Crime Unit to investigate drug cases. Mr. Spota often said publicly that he couldn’t understand the chief’s logic. Current Chief William Wilson Jr. disbanded Southampton’s Street Crime Unit last year.

With the department’s involvement in multi-jurisdictional task forces and, potentially, the firing or convictions of any cops involved in wrongdoing or criminality, policing in Riverhead and Southampton towns will only improve.

That’s good news for all area residents and businesses.