Town officials call for new task force after seventh attack

07/03/2014 8:00 AM |
The railroad tracks in Polish Town. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The railroad tracks in Polish Town. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

After a string of assaults and robberies near the railroad tracks in downtown Riverhead this year -— the most recent coming on Sunday — Riverhead police are planning a new task force of state and local police to crack down on problem areas, said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.

The collaboration — pitched by Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller — would gather information that can be shared between the departments, Mr. Walter said. The task force would follow a similar structure to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s East End Drug and DWI task forces, he said.

Chief Hegermiller said he is also working with MTA police to address the loitering problem around Riverhead’s railroad station.

“We’re not sitting on our hands,” Mr. Walter said, adding that he also plans to meet with the commissioner of the county’s social services department about those seeking services being dropped off in the area.

News of the proposed task force comes days after another person was attacked in Riverhead, the seventh assault or robbery in the area this year.

On Sunday around midnight, a 49-year-old man was beaten and robbed on Railroad Avenue, according to a police press release.

The victim was standing on the sidewalk when three men exited a white, newer-model, four-door vehicle and got into an argument with another man on the sidewalk, police said.

When the victim attempted to walk away from the altercation, the group turned and attacked him, stealing the victim’s wallet, police said.

The man was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center and was expected to be transferred to Stony Brook Medical Center for treatment of internal injuries, police said. An update on the man’s condition was not immediately available.

“The story was that [the robbers] were looking for someone and … the victim fit the description,” Chief Hegermiller said. “That’s what we’re being told.”

The chief said police weren’t notified of the robbery until they were contacted by hospital staff five hours after the man was beaten, saying the victim was badly hurt. The investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made, he said.

While he couldn’t say if Sunday’s robbery and prior incidents — including the mugging of a disabled man on Maple Avenue on June 1 — were connected, Chief Hegermiller noted that a car was used in the most recent robbery, while the robbers in the June 1 incident fled on foot.

“I don’t know that this one is fitting into the same category,” he said. “This can be a crime of opportunity.”

Chief Hegermiller said police attended a Spanish Mass with Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate about a month ago to hand out safety information. He encouraged residents to be mindful of their surroundings.

“At that time of night, don’t travel by yourself; stay on main roads, stay on lit roads,” he said.

Chief Hegermiller also said police were patrolling the area around the railroad tracks.

“We’re on it, as best we can be,” he said. “We have been out there in full force.”

The town would “absolutely” consider putting more patrols in the area, Mr. Walter said. But he said that ultimately, economic development is the only permanent solution to the problems near the railroad tracks.

Mr. Walter said he’s been in discussions with developers to purchase properties around Railroad Avenue, though he didn’t cite any specific buildings being considered for purchase.

“The best way to correct this problem is to put people in an area,” he said. “These problems were on Main Street, but you don’t hear about that problem any more.”

psquire@timesreview.com