Riverhead beefs up downtown patrols after high-profile crimes

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A pedestrian with a bicycle walks west on East Main Street Friday.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A pedestrian with a bicycle walks west on East Main Street Friday.

In the wake of an armed robbery and a fatal hit-and-run accident in downtown Riverhead, Supervisor Sean Walter announced Friday that the police department has doubled police foot patrols downtown.

Mr. Walter said he will also propose a resolution authorizing the town to pull $104,000 from reserve funds to pay for an additional, and “fairly substantial,” investment in the downtown police force in the months ahead.

“We’re not going to lose,” Mr. Walter said of downtown revitalization efforts. “I refuse to lose this battle.”

He also said in a press statement that although isolated incidents still occur downtown and elsewhere, the town is safer than in years past.

“I want every resident and visitor to Riverhead to know that our downtown is statistically safer than many of our neighboring downtown districts,” Mr. Walter said. “I recognize that if you are a victim of crime, dry numbers are of little comfort, but I am happy to say that downtown we are managing to hold back the tide.”

He stressed that, though unfortunate, crime and accidents like the fatal hit-and-run have an “arbitrary nature” that gives a false impression of downtown Riverhead. Mr. Walter added that Southampton Village reports more crime than downtown Riverhead; complete 2012 crime statistics for Riverhead were not yet publicly available.

“Our police cruisers roll from downtown, our station house is downtown, our court is downtown, the day-to-day comings and goings of police vehicles alone give our police department strong visibility on Main Street,” he said in the statement. “With all the pedestrians walking downtown, the foot traffic to and from area businesses and our deep police presence, this crime still occurred.”

Before the police presence was beefed up, one officer per shift patrolled downtown on foot, with two sector cars overlapping the downtown area.

There are now “at least” two officers walking downtown per shift, officials said, explaining the squad of three officers that had been assigned to the area is now being supplemented by other officers. Other measures were being taken, but Mr. Walter said he did not want to go into detail for security reasons.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the $104,000 in the planned resolution would pay for part-time officers to further supplement downtown patrols.

That amount should cover the cost of at least two extra part-time officers per shift, as well as some overtime costs, town officials said.

Mr. Walter said he hadn’t yet shared the resolution with other members of the Town Board, but planned to put it up for a vote at the board’s Jan. 15 meeting.

In response to his proposal, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that she is “looking forward” to working with the supervisor and other town board members to increase police patrols downtown.

“I support the supervisor 100 percent,” she said, but added the police union would also need to be a partner in the discussion.

The robbery that prompted Mr. Walter’s statement occurred last Saturday, when a young couple walking back to their car from a day at the Long Island Aquarium were robbed at knifepoint by a man on a bike.

The man stole their wallets and phones before fleeing the scene. Police are still investigating the incident.

The robbery occurred less than a day after a Brookhaven Hamlet man was killed after being struck by two cars on East Main Street while out celebrating his 50th birthday. Scott Wayte was struck while crossing East Main Street about 5:40 p.m. by a car that fled the scene. He was knocked into another lane and struck again by a different car, whose driver pulled over.

On Wednesday, police arrested Joseph Plummer, 48, of Middle Island and charged him with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident involving the death of a pedestrian, a felony. Mr. Plummer, who authorities said had multiple previous criminal convictions, is being held without bail at the county jail.

Mr. Walter, who also serves as police commissioner for the town, added that he will ask the state Department of Transportation to paint new striping to make Main Street crosswalks more visible to drivers, look to improve sidewalks and address any “lighting shortfalls” in the area.

Eileen Peters, a DOT spokeswoman, said the agency was already working with the town on a proposal to improve sidewalks, for which construction should begin late this year.

That project will involve filling in missing sidewalk links along Main Street from River Road to Center Street and reconstructing existing sidewalks between Griffing and Union avenues, Ms. Peters said.

The DOT and town are considering installing of new benches and additional lighting and trimming trees to improve visibility, Ms. Peters said, adding that wider crosswalks are one proposed idea that may be included in the project to slow down traffic.

“We would gladly consider that and look into that,” she said.

To minimize the impact on businesses, construction work would be done at night and there will be no construction or daytime lane closures between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Ms. Peters said. All local businesses would have daytime access.

“No business would be blocked because of construction,” she said.

A second project backed by federal funding is expected to be awarded on Jan. 10, Ms. Peters said.

That project will connect bicycle and pedestrian paths and make additional sidewalk improvements, she said.

In the statement released Friday, Chief Hegermiller advised residents to be vigilant, use crosswalks when crossing the street and report any suspicious activity to the police department.

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