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‘We’re just not as prioritized;’ Northwest corner of Southampton still feels slighted

12/03/2015 6:00 AM |

Police

Frustration continues to grow in Southampton’s northwestern neighborhoods over what some perceive as indifference from town officials to a wave of crime in recent months, including two more car break-ins since last Wednesday.

Last Tuesday, residents of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton packed a Town Board meeting to demand a greater police presence, coincidentally on the same day Councilman Brad Bender was arrested for allegedly dealing drugs. In response to community concerns, town officials presented a plan to reshuffle officer shifts and increase patrols starting in January.

Although Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Civic Association, initially called the proposal “encouraging,” the tone has shifted for many — including Mr. Taldone — in the week since.

“What I was told left me feeling still like they are putting off the date when they are going to do something about crime,” Mr. Taldone said. “If it was a different part of Southampton, you know that wouldn’t happen.”

The plan, described at last Tuesday’s meeting by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, would require each Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association member to work four additional days per year, freeing up resources for six police officers to work the Community Response Unit. Ms. Throne-Holst described those officers as “boots on the ground” that would improve police visibility and enhance safety in the northwestern areas of the town.

However, that plan does not begin until January; in the meantime, Ms. Throne-Holst said, Southampton police will deploy an extra squad car.

“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.”

For some, the new plan is not sufficient.

“For them to say they will handle it after the first of the year is sad,” said Susan Tocci of Flanders, who has been vocal about police presence. “They’re kind of saying to the criminals, ‘You have 30 days or a month-and-a-half to do what you want, and then there will be increased patrols after that.’”

Ron Fisher, president of the Bayview Pines Civic Association, said he felt “brushed off” by the council and plans to attend the Dec. 8 meeting to make further verbal requests.

“We feel like we’re in the same place as before we talked to the board,” he said. “It just isn’t enough. It’s not a good enough solution.”

The area has seen a slew of crime in recent months, including a fatal shooting, a home invasion and dozens of car break-ins. Two suspects were arrested in the home invasion case, but no arrest was reported for a third suspect in that case.

In the past week, there were also two more car break-ins, bringing the total to more than 70, according to Southampton police Lieutenant Susan Ralph. Last Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, someone broke the window of a car on Old Quogue Road and stole change. On Sunday, someone broke into three cars on Ludlam Avenue and stole change. Two of those cars were unlocked; the third had a window smashed in with a screwdriver.

One suspect, 50-year-old Anthony Jenkins of Riverside, was arrested Nov. 21 for allegedly stealing soup and hot dogs from Marta’s Deli. Police also charged him with four of the vehicle break-ins and he was released later that day with orders to appear at a later court date.

Lt. Ralph said the investigation is ongoing and police are determining whether another suspect or Mr. Jenkins was involved in the other cases.

“I feel like [officials] are just turning a blind eye to Flanders again, and that’s terrible,” Ms. Tocci said.

Police Chief Robert Pearce was not at last Tuesday’s meeting, and some have called on him to take a more visible stance in support of the area’s requests. Mr. Fisher invited him to attend the Bayview Pines meeting on Friday.

“It would be helpful if, as the decision maker, he was present or at least made a statement that he echoes the supervisor’s feelings or plans,” Mr. Fisher said.

Chief Pearce was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Many concerned community members see a connection between this crime wave and a perceived lack of police presence in the area. Those interviewed called for the town to use its reserves to hire additional police officers or to deploy bay constables as an increased presence on the ground during the quieter offseason.

The state is also considering moving the desk officer at the Riverside state police barracks to Farmingville, which would essentially lock the public out of that building and cause it to go dark.

In a study commissioned by the town in April 2014, the Harnett Group found that the town’s police force was understaffed and had not fulfilled recommendations made in a separate 2003 report to add more officers. The town then added most of the recommended officers in its 2015 operating budget.

Mr. Fisher said the Flanders-Riverside-Northampton area does not receive the same level of attention as other parts of Southampton, contributing to the perceived disconnect between community requests and official action.

“That’s the sentiment pervading Flanders: We’re just not as prioritized as other communities,” he said.

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