Editorial: Keys to policing a resurgent downtown Riverhead

Robbery at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, N.Y., victim speaks out
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Looking south toward the Hyatt hotel and Long Island Aquarium from the Ostrander Avenue sidewalk.

In response to a heartbreaking fatal hit-and-run crash on East Main Street Friday night and a knifepoint robbery the next day near the Long Island Aquarium, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter pledged to the News-Review that he “won’t lose ground” to crime or lose sight of public safety in his fight to revitalize Main Street.

He then said an announcement regarding the Riverhead Police Department is forthcoming, implying that the answer is more police.

He’s spot on.

So here’s hoping Mr. Walter, who also serves as police commissioner, pushes and enables the department chief to beef up the police presence downtown around the clock, even if that means — gasp — spending more money on police overtime.

The county, state and federal governments have chipped in millions in grant money to get the downtown area going again. The town must do its part as well and spend a few bucks to go beyond what have in the past amounted to dog and pony shows and not a real, sustained police presence.

In bustling downtown areas in Suffolk County — such as Patchogue, Bay Shore and Huntington — police are seen everywhere late at night and into the early morning on weekends near nightlife venues.

It’s been written repeatedly in this space that any revitalization of Riverhead needs an infusion of young people enjoying the area. But those people need to feel safe. Their parents don’t want to worry about them living downtown, either.

Greater police visibility on Main Street as the bars let out is the key to making downtown an attractive location for young people.

It’s also critically important to protect families visiting the prime downtown attraction, the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center, as well as the adjoining Hyatt Hotel. So police on foot or in cars — as well as aquarium-hired security guards, likely on the way — should constantly be seen in this area.

While the details of Mr. Walter’s plan are not yet known, they should include these important components. With the Summerwind apartments — including a new bar and restaurant — and the Suffolk Theater expected to open in 2013, the bustle is coming.

Riverhead Town and its police department must be prepared.