Crime is down across Riverhead Town for the fourth straight year. But whether that’s due to fine police work or just national trends depends on whom you ask.
And not everyone believes the numbers reflect a safer Riverhead.
Riverhead Police Department crime stats for 2011, acquired this week by the News-Review, show a 2.2 percent drop in reported criminal incidents from the previous year and a 14 percent drop since a downward trend began after a five-year high in 2008.
Town police responded to 3,685 criminal incidents in 2011, the lowest total in five years and down from 3,772 in 2010.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter credited the town’s police department with the overall drop in crime.
“I think it’s just indicative of the job the police department is doing,” Mr. Walter said.
Police will continue to target specific areas to patrol and will monitor the area’s pharmacies in 2012 after local store owners raised concerns following a recent spate of drugstore robberies nationwide, including two deadly incidents in Medford and Seaford, Mr. Walter said.
“If there’s something going on, we want to stay on top of it,” he said.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said rearranged police shifts, increased patrols, and more Community Oriented Police Enforcement officers may have led to the dip in crime in 2011. But Chief Hegermiller was quick to acknowledge that the town’s figures match national trends showing less crime.
He added that other unknown factors may have caused crime to drop.
“I’d like to say we’re totally responsible for [the drop in crime], but I just don’t know,” Chief Hegermiller said.
Arrests were also down last year, according to the reports, dropping almost 10 percent, from 1,265 in 2010 to 1,151 in 2011.
And for the second year in a row, no homicides were reported in Riverhead Town. The death of Henrietta Sholl at the Budget Host Inn in Riverside last May, which authorities ruled as a homicide, is not included in Riverhead’s statistics because the motel is not in Riverhead Town, and thus not in Riverhead Police jurisdiction.
Incidents of criminal mischief dropped as well, from 365 reported in 2010 to 318 in 2011.
However, the numbers show more larcenies, up from 938 in 2010 to 1,030 in 2011; sex offenses increased from seven to nine; and assaults rose from 49 to 58. Burglaries were slightly up, 171 to 173, as were driving under the influence offenses, 151 to 156.
Riverhead Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon & Spa on East Main Street, said he doesn’t believe crime has been a problem for downtown in recent years, and praised town police for their presence there.
“The police are doing a great job and I can vouch for them. I’ve never ever had an incident,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “I would walk my grandchildren down Main Street any time, day or night, and not worry.”
But Steven Wirth, owner of Digger O’Dell’s on West Main Street, was surprised to hear about the drop in crime based on what he sees downtown.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how that’s possible,” Mr. Wirth said. “It certainly doesn’t look any cleaner.”
He’s not blaming individual police officers. Mr. Wirth believes the department is understaffed and stretched too thin to be effective.
He placed the blame for his negative experiences on town leadership.
“I don’t think [persistent quality-of-life problems downtown] are an indictment of the police, but an indictment of the people who run the town,” he said, adding that more patrols downtown would help “clean up” the area. He also said that a flourishing downtown, and the visitors it would bring, would also help push crime out, and urged public officials to be more “proactive.”
“Like they say, the more lights you turn on, the less cockroaches there’ll be,” he said.