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Southampton announces new police chief, raising concerns for Flanders residents

09/19/2016 6:00 AM |

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A change in guard at the Southampton Town Police Department has Flanders and Riverside residents concerned that their hamlets may be neglected during the transition.

The Southampton Town Board will hire Nassau County Police Chief Steven Skrynecki to replace current Chief Robert Pearce, who will retire Sept. 30. Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman announced the decision last week and noted that an interim chief — Southampton police Captain Lawrence Schurek — will serve from Oct. 1 until Mr. Skrynecki officially begins in January. The Town Board will hold a Sept. 29 special Town Board meeting to appoint the new chief, Mr. Schneiderman said.

Local leaders in the Flanders and Riverside community said they are worried that by having an interim chief in place, it could limit the police presence in their area at a time when crime seems to be back on the rise.

“I’m very concerned that since we are having a delay until January, what are [the police] going to do for us?” Flanders resident Susan Tocci said. Ms. Tocci is part of a group of Flanders residents who feel the police presence has been lacking lately. She said she worries there will be a delay in getting more officers to the area with an interim chief coming in before someone brand new to the department.

Ron Fisher, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Our concern is that at this crucial time our department needs permanent leadership,” he said.

Mr. Fisher said when he approached police officials previously about seeing a lack of police vehicles in the area, he was told that when there is a seasonal influx of tourists, resources need to be allocated accordingly.

“We saw an immediate effect,” he said.

Mr. Fisher said he noticed a lack of police presence in the area starting in April. His mother and brother’s homes located near Priscilla Avenue were broken into the week of Sept. 5.

“It changes the way you feel safe in your home,” he said. “It’s very simple. What we need is more officers per shift. 24 hours a day.”

In March, following a series of car break-ins and other incidents, Southampton police said beefed up patrols in the area were resulting in more arrests. Mr. Pearce met with the Bay View Pines Civic and Taxpayers Association along with New York State Police Captain Bill Hulse and cited the increase arrests starting in January.

Southampton Lt. Susan Ralph said last week that there are two police vehicles designated to the Flanders area and when other crew units are available, they also will often respond to incidents there.

“The crew units have been addressing that area when they are working, but if they are needed or have other jobs, they will go to other areas,” she said.

Lt. Ralph said she is aware that Flanders residents would like to see more vehicles in the area and assured such requests are heard by the department.

“Nothing is changing because Chief Pearce is leaving. There is no change in the police department and how we operate,” she said. “If residents have any concerns they can always reach out to the police department and we will address each and every concern that the public brings forward to us.”

Mr. Fisher said he trusts the town and the police department’s judgment, but he worries that with the interim only being in place for a few months and then having to get a new chief adjusted to the role, the concerns will not be addressed.

Mr. Fisher said he has been waiting all year for the town budget discussions that are taking place now. He and a group of residents want to address the new chief with their concerns and work with him to get more officers in their area.

“Now we have to do it with interim, who is potentially not going to have enough leverage,” Mr. Fisher said. “We are just concerned that there is an interim that we will go through this with and get attached to and then do it all again when the new one comes in.”

Mr. Skrynecki was one of the final four candidates a search committee considered along with East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen Jr., Shelter Island Chief James Read and Capt. Schurek, the Southampton Press had reported. Nine candidates had applied for the position.

Photo caption: Southampton Town police chief Robert Pearce, center, will retire on Sept. 30. (Credit: Nicole Smith, file)

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