Backed by a trio of politicians, residents in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton continue to push back against the upcoming changes to the New York State Police Barracks in Riverside.
About 50 people gathered outside the barracks Monday during a press conference called by state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Their goal, as well as officials from the county, Riverhead and Southampton Towns and the Shinnecock Reservation, is for the barracks to remain open to the public.
“We don’t believe there is adequate staffing here and that has led to other problems,” Mr. Thiele said. “The dispatching would be moved out of the barracks and there would be times when there are no officers present and the door would be closed here at various times of the day.”
The state announced earlier this year that it will close the front door to the Riverside barracks and will no longer have a trooper at the front desk at some points.
Mr. Zeldin said that it’s “government function 101″ to not be reducing police services at a time when people are feeling threatened.
Mr. LaValle said the No. 1 issue in the state is the heroin epidemic.
“This is the worst time that we could be away from having adequate enforcement on all levels of policing,” he said.
He referenced the string of car break-ins and robberies in the area recently when he said, “I hope all these cars (parked along the road) are locked. Someone could come in when we are hosting this event and there could be a break-in on a car or a house.”
Mr. LaValle said he was successful in getting money for state police in the budget, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has chosen not to spent it.
The Riverside barracks is located on land donated by Southampton Town in 2001 to ensure a police presence in the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton areas, Mr. Thiele said. The state police supplement town and village police throughout the East End and are the primary patrol on Sunrise Highway and the Shinnecock Reservation.
“At a time when crime and drugs are serious issues, this is not a time when we should be reducing services,” Mr. Thiele said.
Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle made their request known to state Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico in October, but the response they got from Mr. D’Amico last month amounted to a big “no,” Mr. Thiele said.
Mr. D’Amico responded in a letter dated Nov. 17 saying that more Troopers will available for patrol once the desk duty is eliminated and the calls are redirected through the Farmingdale barracks. The Riverside barracks will still remain open to the public when officers are physically present, he said. A phone located at the entrance will be available when police are not present, which will allow instant contact with dispatchers in Farmingdale.
“With today’s modern communication capabilities, it is simply an ineffective use of personnel to allow them to site idly at a quiet desk,” he wrote, adding that those officers should be on the road patrolling.
Although state officials initially said the Riverside barracks would maintain staffing levels, Lt. Jose Febo of the state police told Flanders residents in November that the Riverside barracks has been two officers short for the past month or so because junior officers were pulled from the Riverside barracks so they could replace two officers in Farmingdale who retired.
Charles McArdle, the president of the Eastern Long Island Police Conference, which represents more than a dozen East End police unions, said the Troopers also have reduced staffing between midnight and 5 a.m. on the East End. He said this leaves just one state Trooper on patrol for the entire East End during those hours.
The Riverside barracks, which is headquarters for Zone 2, which covers all of Suffolk County, would continue to be used by the state police, and would house investigators and administrators as well as troopers who are switching shifts or doing paperwork, according to Major Joseph Tripodo, who is the commanding officer for Troop L, which covers Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
The State Police are the only police department authorized to enter Shinnecock Nation land, other than federal agencies.
Shinnecock Trustees Nichol Dennis-Banks and Daniel Collins Sr. said that the presence of law enforcement on the Shinnecock Reservation is very important, and having fewer troopers means longer response time.
“For us, this is a matter of saving lives,” Mr. Dennis-Banks said. “We can’t get the emergency agencies to come out without the assistance of the state police. So it’s imperative we keep this location close to us and close to the Shinnecock land. By them moving up island, this will lengthen the response time.”
Photo Caption: Assemblyman Fred Thiele speaks at Monday’s press conference that he called for along with state Senator Ken LaValle (right) and Congressman Lee Zeldin (left).