07/17/14 8:00am
After several attacks in the downtown Riverhead area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic males — the town will revive its dormant Anti-Bias Task Force, a group 'meant to be a proactive agency in promoting tolerance and understanding.' (Credit: Carrie Miller)

After several attacks in the downtown Riverhead area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic males — the town will revive its dormant Anti-Bias Task Force, a group ‘meant to be a proactive agency in promoting tolerance and understanding.’ (Credit: Paul Squire)

A string of violent assaults and robberies in the downtown area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic men — has town leaders responding by reviving a group aimed at bringing the community together.

Dormant almost since its inception in 2007, according to town officials, Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force will soon begin meeting again. (more…)

01/24/14 9:00am
01/24/2014 9:00 AM


BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

Riverhead Town is exploring the option of hiring a Spanish-speaking police officer, an addition that would help the department — whose ranks are overwhelmingly white — address a communications gap between law enforcement and Riverhead’s growing Hispanic population.

“We recognize that there’s an issue as far as communication goes, so we want to make sure we’re able to take care of that,” said Police Chief David Hegermiller.

In addition to the Civil Service list that’s normally used when officers are hired, the Town Board has requested the Spanish-speaking Civil Service list, a subset of the full list that includes only candidates with proven fluency in Spanish, said Supervisor Sean Walter. Chief Hegermiller added that the department will have the flexibility to hire from the full civil service list as well, should that prove to be a better option.

Advocates and officials in the police department have said better relations between the Hispanic community and police would make the town safer by encouraging people who would otherwise be unable to report crimes or provide tips to come forward.

“I think it’s a great thing to do,” Mr. Walter told the News-Review. “Hopefully, we can find some qualified people on that list.”

Nearly two years ago, a News-Review report noted that Riverhead’s police force was the least diverse of all East End police departments — not including the tiny Shelter Island department — despite the fact that Riverhead is the East End’s most racially diverse town. At that time, 82 of Riverhead’s 85 officers were white. And in the two years since, no black or Spanish-speaking officers have been hired.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Police Chief David Hegermiller.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Part of the disparity, the town said at the time, comes from the civil service system itself. The county police exam is conducted every four years and Suffolk County Police Department officials said more than 19,000 people passed the test in June 2011. Of those, 7.7 percent were black and 16.4 percent Hispanic. State law requires that police departments hire from among the top-scoring candidates, regardless of race. Riverhead chooses from a smaller pool because it prefers to hire from among town residents who pass the county test.

Mr. Walter said rules for hiring police officers force the town to review the same candidates each year. Pulling the Spanish-speaking list comprised of only Riverhead residents will enable the town to consider a more varied group of candidates, he said.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Walter stated that he would rather not consider skin color when making hires, since “it’s time to start looking beyond what our colors and our differences are.”

Right now, the town has one opening on the force due to the retirement of Det. Sgt. Joseph Loggia later this month. Mr. Walter said he hopes to hire a new officer “immediately.”

Town councilman and former police officer James Wooten said a Spanish-speaking officer would add a different set of skills to the department’s ranks.

Mr. Wooten said a Spanish-speaking officer — especially one who is also of Hispanic heritage — would be able to tap into the largest growing Hispanic population on the East End.

“I think it’s imperative we look at that list to try to address that segment of our society,” he said. “There’s a comfort level that has to be here that’s not there. Some have integrated themselves into the mainstream, but for the most part, people keep to themselves.”

According to the 2010 U.S. census, about 84.6 percent of Riverhead’s 33,500 residents identified themselves as white. Just over 8.7 percent of Riverheaders said they were black and about 9 percent indicated some other race, such as Asian or Native American. Almost 14 percent of Riverhead’s census respondents were Hispanic, a rising demographic in the town in recent years.

“The police department has to be representative [of its community],” Mr. Wooten said. “Communication is everything.”

The town’s department has already taken steps to improve communication with Hispanic residents. The town ran a cultural immersion course for officers two years ago, for example, and last year installed a translation hotline at the front desk.

That hotline allows officers taking complaints from residents to communicate, through a translating service, with those who can’t speak English and hear their concerns and tips.

Police Captain Richard Smith said he has seen officers using the hotline since it was installed last June.

“I think it’s a positive thing,” he said, adding that a handful of officers on the 85-man squad have used Rosetta Stone software, provided in each of the sector cars’ computers, to teach themselves Spanish.

“We’ve got a few guy who have learned it on their own,” Capt. Smith said. “We’re pretty proud of them.”

Sister Margaret Smyth, executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead, said hiring a Spanish-speaking officer would be a positive step.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in here and have been stopped by police who have been treated nicely — that’s not the problem — but have no idea what happened or what they need to be doing,” she said.

Sister Margaret and others at the Apostolate work with local Hispanic residents to help them file taxes, get food and clothing and fill out paperwork for government documents or traffic tickets. She said the Apostolate also directs immigrants and residents toward classes that teach English.

“On our side, we push for people to be learning English, but it also helps the town to have the availability of people who can communicate in Spanish,” she said.

Now, Sister Margaret said, the town and police department have to continue to follow through on their efforts.


12/13/12 1:56pm
12/13/2012 1:56 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Th Field Day stage days before the planned event in Calverton.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Field Day stage days before the planned event in Calverton.

Riverhead Town may be close to reaching a $1 million settlement in the eight-year Field Day lawsuit, town officials said.

That’s the case in which the promoter of a proposed 2003 music festival at the town’s Enterprise Park at Calverton sought more than $30 million in damages from a number of town, county and state officials after the concert was denied.

“I cannot believe this came to fruition,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Thursday, as the Town Board reviewed a draft resolution to settle the case.

In the draft settlement, the supervisor said the town agreed to pay Field Day LLC, the concert promoters, a total of $1 million, of which $250,000 would come from the town and the other $750,000 would be paid by the town’s insurance company.

He said Field Day has accepted that offer.

The Town Board was discussing the issue further in executive session Thursday and the resolution to authorize the settlement is expected to be formally voted on at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Field Day LLC and AEG Live LLC filed the lawsuit in May 2004 against Suffolk County, the county health department, then-county executive Bob Gaffney, numerous other county officials, Riverhead Town, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, then-Riverhead Supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz and his executive assistant, Joey MacLellan, as well as New York State.

“This ends the litigation against the chief and town and then it’s over for us,” Mr. Walter said. “The litigation will go forward with the county.”

Field Day was a proposed three-day music festival at EPCAL that would have featured major acts such as Radiohead, Beastie Boys and Beck, among others.

The concert never took place because the county refused to provide police protection, and the town said it didn’t have enough police officers of its own, which resulted in the county health department denying Field Day a mass gathering permit.

The lawsuit named Chief Hegermiller personally, claiming his request for 150 more officers from the Suffolk County police department was not based on any standards or requirements found in the New York Mass Gatherings Laws.

The chief also had written a letter saying the town could “possibly” provide 50 police officers, in addition to the county officers.

“Field Day believed that by itself providing private security officers to control the festival inside the Enterprise Park, the Riverhead Police Department could provide a reasonable number of public law enforcement officers to control traffic flow into and outside of the Enterprise Park site, as well as a reasonable number of officers inside the site,” Field Day states in the lawsuit.

Town officials never officially approved nor denied the music festival, but instead held a press conference a few days before the concert was scheduled to start and announced that they would not issue the permit.

The concert was quickly moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey as a one-day event, and there was a torrential rainstorm that day, which further limited attendance at the event.

Charles Bachman, the attorney representing Field Day in the case, declined comment Thursday.