Locals give their thoughts about downtown safety in Riverhead

A Riverhead police officer walks the beat downtown on Monday night. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A Riverhead police officer walks the beat downtown on Monday night. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Editor’s note: This story was published in Thursday’s paper, before an arrest was made in relation to the downtown robberies.

On Monday morning, Francine Smith was walking past the Suffolk Theater, newly purchased gift in hand. It’s a route along Main Street she’s familiar with, having lived in Riverhead for the past 17 years.

But once the sun sets, she’ll be back inside. She and her husband don’t want to risk going out, she said.

“I wouldn’t come down here at nights, to be honest,” Ms. Smith said.

Residents informally polled on Main Street this week had mixed reactions to the proposed Guardian Angels patrols, with some eagerly supporting the idea and others more skeptical of how effective they would be in curbing crime downtown.

Ms. Smith is in favor of the Guardian Angels’ presence and said the town has spent years trying to revitalize the area.

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“They’re trying so hard to make this a beautiful spot,” she said. “To have crime ruin it would be terrible.”

That view was sharply contrasted by Jubell Myrick, a barber at Platinum Image Beauty and Barbershop on Griffing Avenue who said he’s never had a problem around his store.

In his years as a barber, Mr. Myrick has given haircuts to “everyone” around the neighborhood, he said. He knows the guys who hang around and said the real trouble doesn’t come from the Riverhead regulars on Main Street but from those who come from out of town.

“The guys doing this, they’re not from around here, in my opinion,” Mr. Myrick said.

He added that while he’s never felt unsafe in his shop, increased patrols by groups like the Guardian Angels might make other business owners feel more at ease.

Duffy Griffiths, head brewer at Crooked Ladder Brewing Company on West Main Street, said a “quality of life” law is needed to address trouble downtown, not community patrols. He doesn’t see gang activity or violent crimes around his shop. Instead, it’s lesser offenses like loitering.

“We’ve got customers in [the tasting room] and there are bums sleeping on the bench across the street,” he said.

Mr. Griffiths said the town should focus on those types of crimes to clean up downtown’s reputation. As for the Guardian Angels, Mr. Griffiths said that while “every bit helps,” he thinks the Angels may be seeking publicity with the move.

Another business owner was skeptical any increased police presence would last. Jerry Steiner owns Allied Optical, the business next to the downtown pizza restaurant robbed Tuesday night.

“I don’t see any cops on Main Street, unless they’re invisible,” he said. But Mr. Steiner predicted there will be more cops now, at least for a while.

“When something like this happens, we get the public relations foot patrol,” he said. “They come in, and then after about two weeks, they go away.” Mr. Steiner believes that nearby drug treatment centers and sober homes in the area contribute to downtown’s crime issues.

Other residents say they’re familiar with the Guardian Angels’ work.

Norma Brown, who recently moved from Brooklyn to a housing complex in Riverside, said that while the Guardian Angels never patrolled her former neighborhood, she’s heard good things about their efforts.

Ms. Brown said she and other members of her retirement community are thinking of starting their own neighborhood watch as a precaution. She’s also advocated for members of her proposed community watch to get gun licenses in case someone attempts to break into their homes.

The Guardian Angels, like a community watch, are a good idea, she said.

“I’m about empowerment,” Ms. Brown said. “A community should look out for itself.”