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Police: Law enforcement push will continue in Riverside/Flanders area

04/14/2016 9:00 AM |

Riverside traffic circle

After years of feeling like they’ve been ignored, homeowners in the Riverside and Flanders area are “thrilled” to see more cops on patrol.

And while most of the arrests from a recent police push were misdemeanor-level offenses or lesser crimes, nearby residents have been positively impacted by the increased police presence, said Vince Taldone, former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

“I can’t express my gratitude enough,” he said. “I think this is a huge investment in the existing community.”

A law enforcement push that targeted street crimes and “quality of life” violations in and around downtown Riverhead and Riverside has paid dividends, local police leaders said this week, as a joint effort by the Riverhead, Southampton and New York State police departments netted 22 arrests last month.

Among the arrests were drug possession offenses, criminal weapons possession and instances of drugged or drunk driving, according to a police press release. A recent undercover prostitution sting near the Riverside traffic circle that led to nine additional arrests has also helped put residents at ease.

Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller said the police push will hopefully give criminals pause.

“I think it sends out a clear message that we’re out there to take care of business,” he said.

Part of the challenge in keeping Riverside, Flanders and the downtown Riverhead area safe arises from questions of jurisdiction, Chief Hegermiller said. The Peconic River divides the area between Riverhead and Southampton towns, and while Riverhead police have jurisdiction to pursue misdemeanor offenses across the town border, lesser offenses like drinking in public must be handled by the local police.

That split between police isn’t shared by residents in the area, who walk freely between downtown Riverhead and Riverside, he said.

“Everyone that’s over there is over here,” Chief Hegermiller said. “People ignore the line. It’s their town. When you talk about ‘Riverhead,’ it is that as a whole.”

Chief Hegermiller feels the initiative was a success and said he supported the idea of future enforcement collaborations.

Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce described the initiative as “targeted enforcement” that “flooded” the area with police. Those added patrols should continue, he said.

“Even though they may be ramping down a little bit, the agreement is to continue working together,” Chief Pearce said. “Everybody is acknowledging that Riverhead’s problems are Riverside’s and Flanders’ problems. We all share the same clientele, so to speak.”

In the wake of last year’s alleged car break-ins in Flanders, Southampton Town police reshuffled its squads, freeing an extra patrol car for the Flanders area. Even as the summer season approaches, the chief is optimistic the patrol car will remain near the hamlets.

“It’s the nature of the offenses taking place that are different up there,” he said, adding that with upcoming revitalization plans for Riverside “it’s important to make people want to feel safe. It’s all tied together.”

The chiefs’ viewpoints are encouraging news for Mr. Taldone, who said residents in and around Riverside — one of Suffolk County’s most economically distressed hamlets, according to the Suffolk County Planning Commission — and Flanders have been clamoring for more policing in the area to help mitigate alleged problems with drugs and prostitution.

Work by the East End Drug Task Force isn’t made public until arrests happen, Mr. Taldone said, so residents may feel as though no investigations are underway.

“You don’t necessarily know anything is happening when it doesn’t look that way,” he said. “People were getting very frustrated about not seeing action.”

A recent state police decision to no longer have a trooper at the desk of its nearby barracks was also criticized.

Meanwhile, high-profile crime — like a pair of home invasions and a lengthy string of car break-ins late last year — has put residents on edge, Mr. Taldone said.

“It still sent shockwaves through the community,” he said. “Everyone’s still afraid when there’s a knock at the door or they hear something outside.”

In the past, FRNCA has urged the Southampton Town Board to have more police officers patrol the area. Mr. Taldone said politicians had pointed to the plan to revitalize Riverside as the solution to the area’s crime problems.

Mr. Taldone said the newest Southampton Town supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, previously heard of FRNCA’s concerns while serving as the area’s Suffolk County legislator.

More patrols are one part of the town’s push to clean up Riverside, Flanders and Northampton. The town has also taken steps to demolish derelict homes in the hamlets, which Mr. Taldone believes will help push drug dealers from the area.

“It’s a combination of things. It’s not just detective work,” he said. “You’ve gotta do all these things at the same time.”

Chief Pearce said he’s heard from several residents who all reported seeing an increased police presence — and that they all feel safer.

“There was definite positive feedback and we’re going to continue it as long as we can,” he said.

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Photo: A rundown former gas station near the traffic circle in Riverside is one of several locations police have targeted in their recent focus. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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