Earlier this year, a combined task force of police officers and detectives from town and state departments descended on Riverside, the Southampton Town hamlet that has struggled to rehabilitate its quality of living due to crime such as prostitution and drug sales.
That task force netted more than 20 arrests, leading Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce to say town cops will continue patrolling the area. And based on this month’s increase in foot patrols in Riverside, that’s a promise the police department has kept.
Chief Pearce said a boost in staffing has doubled the town police’s Community Response Unit from three officers to six; the department has stationed that unit in Riverside and officers were instructed to speak with local business owners to hear their concerns.
“We’re able to be a lot more visible in those areas and visibility goes a long way,” he said.
The unit will remain as long as possible as other squad cars are pulled back to their respective patrol areas due to the busy summer season. Chief Pearce warned that, if needed, CRU officers may be moved elsewhere in town as the summer wears on.
“You put them out there as long as you can, but you can’t maintain that level of staffing,” he said. “Now the summer is upon us and it’s pulling us in all different directions.”
Just last year, area residents stormed a Town Hall meeting demanding more police coverage. Staffing changes at the local state trooper barracks also led to a brief controversy, though the state police have since taken steps to address the community’s concerns.
All this while Southampton Town officials plan a revitalization plan for the area that would encourage business growth and create a more welcoming downtown.
Community advocates praised the increased patrols.
“This is a huge victory for us, as many feel this kind of policing is instrumental to combating drugs and prostitution,” wrote Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association president and Flanders resident Ron Fisher in an online post.
Steve McDonly, whose family has owned a strip of buildings on the north side of Flanders Road for decades, said last week he’s seen the effects of increased police patrols.
“They’re on the ball,” he said. But next door, barber Robert Fletcher — who had just finished giving a buzz cut to a customer — said he didn’t notice any more police presence than usual. Mr. Fletcher, who’s been cutting hair in Riverside for 15 years, said the area was once far more unsavory than it is today.
He pointed across the way to a vacant gas station on the Riverside traffic circle.
“Years ago — seven years ago or eight years ago — on that side of the street them prostitutes were walking on the street every three minutes,” Mr. Fletcher said. Not anymore, he added, motioning to the new coffee shop that recently opened nearby as proof.
Mr. McDonly agreed, saying Riverside is turning around.
“It’s isn’t too bad,” he said with a shrug.
Photo caption: A Southampton Town police vehicle in Riverside last week. (Credit: Paul Squire)