Residents of the Flanders-Riverside area had planned for days to speak before the Southampton Town Board about the need for greater policing on their streets in the face of a recent crime wave.
Little did they expect Councilman Brad Bender, one of the men they had come to address Tuesday night, would plead guilty that very morning for his role in illegally selling prescription pain medication in a larger scheme that involved a Riverhead physician assistant who wrote the prescriptions and allegedly took half of the cut. The PA, Michael Troyan, was arrested earlier this month.
“I’ve known all these people for my entire life, but as we see, drug dealers come in all forms,” said Flanders resident Susan Tocci, who also spoke about policing at the Nov. 10 Town Board meeting. “It’s not funny — it’s sad. It’s very sad. It’s a sad day in Southampton. But this is the exact reason why we need a police presence in Flanders.”
Local groups, including FRNCA and the Bayview Pines Civic Association, had planned since last week — before news came out about Mr. Bender’s criminal activity — to demand greater safety from law enforcement.
In the past few months, the area has seen more than 60 car break-ins, a home invasion and a fatal shooting, and many of its residents feel they do not get the proper attention from the more affluent remainder of Southampton Town.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the town council told concerned residents it had ratified an agreement earlier that day with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association to increase patrols. Under that plan, said Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, each PBA member would work an additional four days a year, freeing up resources for six officers to work the Community Response Unit as “boots on the ground.” Cost details about the new plan were not discussed at the meeting.
That change would go into effect Jan. 1, and in the meantime, Southampton Police will deploy an extra squad car to the area.
“We take very seriously the crime spree that has been there now for several weeks,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “There have been major breakthroughs on these issues in the past few days.”
Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association President Vince Taldone said after the meeting the progress was “encouraging,” but that he will wait to see if Southampton Town is able to deliver on its commitments.
“I still have that concern — will it come through?” he said. “Will the police presence remain when the shooutout ends? When it’s not on the front pages of the [Riverhead] News-Review, will they still give us the attention they promise us?”
Ms. Tocci offered a similar sentiment in her remarks to the town council.
“I want action,” she said. “I don’t want to hear promises that there will be another sector car vehicle, I want to see another sector car. I don’t want that sector car to leave Flanders to go to Westhampton or Hampton Bays. It’s unacceptable. Find the money and do it.”
As she spoke the final sentence, the audience erupted in applause.
Some, including Ms. Tocci and Mr. Taldone, told the town council they have waited as much as 30 or 40 minutes for a police car to show up after calling 911. The state is also looking to lock the public out of the Riverside state police barracks and switch its desk officers to Farmingville, prompting an online petition against that decision that has received more than 160 signatures.
Proponents of adding police stressed they have no problem with the officers themselves, but rather the lack of resources.
“The police do a fantastic job,” said Bayview Pines President Ron Fisher. “We love how they treat us, we love how they protect us. There just aren’t enough of them.”
One Flanders resident, Carl Iacone, echoed similar requests for action before invoking The Big Duck to “try to add a little humor.”
“The duck is crying right now,” he said. “The way the situation is there, I’m surprised they don’t steal the duck.”
The town council — now consisting of four members, two of whom also won’t be there come Jan. 1, 2016 — assured the residents at the meeting that plans to replace Mr. Bender were already in the works.
The now-former councilman was not present at the meeting Tuesday since he immediately resigned from his post as councilman once news of his arrest broke Tuesday.
His absence was felt at the meeting, both because his seat sat empty at the table for the duration of the meeting and also because the former councilman is a Northampton resident himself, and was often viewed as someone who fought to help the area.
He preceded Mr. Taldone as the president of FRNCA until his election. Mr. Taldone — who was “heartbroken” by Tuesday’s news — said he recalls Mr. Bender doing anything to clean up the neighborhood, even cutting the grass in the middle of the Riverside traffic circle.
“Drugs make good people do bad things,” Mr. Taldone said. “We’d been here together protesting before he got elected. It’s just hard to see. It hurts. And there’s an irony to tonight with that empty seat.”
On Monday, the council will set the date of a special election to fill Mr. Bender’s seat, which sat vacant at the table for the duration of the town council meeting. Under state law, that election must occur 60 to 90 days after his resignation was accepted Tuesday.
Top photo caption: Susan Tocci (pictured) told the Southampton Town Council the lack of sufficient policing in the Flanders and Riverside area was“unacceptable.” (Credit: Chris Lisinski)