The year 2015 began in grisly fashion for the Riverhead Police Department: a double-murder/suicide occurred in Wading River, shocking the community, and a string of armed robberies in stores and banks soon took place in downtown Riverhead and elsewhere.
In two of those cases, employees were held at gunpoint.
Statistically speaking, however, 2015 was an odd year.
The lowest number of criminal complaints since 2000 was recorded, yet town police officers reported making more arrests than they had since 2001.
Although robberies increased from 12 to 38 from 2014 to last year, other violent crimes, like rape, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft, decreased. So did criminal mischief and incidents related to controlled substances.
Meanwhile, the number of people arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol increased, according to the statistics.
But the overall decline in criminal incidents reported in Riverhead Town isn’t new.
Since 2000, when 5,747 such incidents occurred, the number has declined 47 percent, to 3,037 last year.
“I give credit to the men and women of the department,” Police Chief David Hegermiller said. “They’re doing a good job.”
The 1,328 arrests made last year represented a 36 percent increase over 2014, when 973 arrests were recorded — the fewest since at least 2000.
“Staffing had a lot to do with it,” Chief Hegermiller said in explaining the increase in arrests. “In 2014, we had four officers in the police academy and those officers were on the street in 2015.”
He added that after the string of armed robberies early in the year, Riverhead police began more concentrated enforcement in the downtown and Riverside areas, working in conjunction with state and Southampton Town police.
The Riverhead police are also involved with the district attorney’s East End Drug Task Force and East End DWI Task Force, Chief Hegermiller said.
A further breakdown of arrests conducted by the department shows that petit larceny arrests rose from 287 in 2014 to 388 in 2015. Petit larceny and DWI were the two most common arrest charges both years.
Among the incidents that decreased most notably from 200 to 2015 were criminal mischief, which dropped from 782 to 204, and larceny, down from 1,485 to 958. DUI has also fallen overall, from 282 in 2000 to 185 last year.
Chief Hegermiller said Main Street is busier now than he can ever recall, reflecting the lower overall number of criminal incidents.
“I think the police department is doing better than holding its own,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. “You see that in the uptick of arrests, and they’ve been very aggressive in DWI enforcement, and have been partnering with some of the surrounding towns and the state police on issues.”
Addressing the rise in robberies, Mr. Walter said he believes it may have something to do with increased use of drugs such as heroin, which has become an issue across Long Island and beyond.
Chief Hegermiller said people stealing to get money to buy drugs “is probably the majority of all crime.”
Some local officials expressed surprise at the numbers in the reports.
“We base our information on the police reports and the reports from the media,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “From what I’m hearing, there’s gang activity and there’s drug activity and it’s getting worse in the town.”
Others feel things are getting better.
East Main Street resident Thea Cohen said the nearby River Pointe apartments “used to be very bad. There were shootings, gangs, prostitutes, riots. I’d hear it all the time. I’d hear all the gun shots and everything.
“But the last few years, it has quieted down quite a bit. No more riots, no more yelling and screaming,” she said.
In fact, only two prostitution arrests have been made in Riverhead since 2008.
Ms. Cohen said that after the string of burglaries and robberies at East Main Street businesses in December and January, several residents and business owners met with members of the Guardian Angels, based in New York City, to discuss possible volunteer patrols on East Main Street.
But things have gotten quieter since then, she said, and no further meetings with the Guardian Angel have taken place.
The Guardian Angels already conduct patrols on Railroad Avenue, with seven to 10 volunteers patrolling the area, according to Guardian Angel patrol director Benjamin Garcia.
Mr. Garica said they usually patrol only one day a week in Riverhead, sometimes two, and have six more volunteers in training.
“When we’ve been there, everything has been nice and quiet,” Mr. Garcia said. He credited much of that to the Riverhead Police Department, which regularly has officers stationed near the train station.
Last spring, the Riverhead Police Benevolent Association, and some Town Board members, opposed bringing in the Guardian Angels, saying their presence was unnecessary.
Asked for his assessment of the Guardian Angels, who began patrols by Railroad Avenue in May, Chief Hegermiller said, “Good, I guess. In the beginning I had more contact with them. As of late I haven’t had much contact.”