Riverhead’s Law Enforcement Advisory Panel holds first of two ‘listening tours’

Riverhead Town’s Law Enforcement Advisory Panel has scheduled two “listening tour” meetings for this week, according to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

The first, held via Zoom, took place Tuesday morning and was attended by about 20 people, although only three spoke. The second Zoom session is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 14, 5 p.m..

In order to listen or participate, you must register in advance, according to Police Chief David Hegermiller. Registration information can be found on the town website, he said. 

“These are only listening sessions,” the chief noted. “There will be back-and-forth as far as questions and answers.”

A Spanish-speaking interpreter will be available, he added.

During Tuesday’s listening tour, Michele Lynch of Riverhead said de-escalating situations is very important. She also said, after seeing a picture of new police hires, that the town lacks diversity in its workforce and police department, and the should do a better job of recruiting. Ms. Lynch also feels the town should keep statistics on the nationality of people pulled over by police, the reason for the stop and the end result of the stop.  

Former supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said that police should be required to give a reason when they pull someone over in a vehicle.

Kathy Berezny of Riverhead suggested the department use body cameras. 

The Suffolk County police has also conducted listening tours for all of its precincts as well as one for the East End police departments, which Ms. Aguiar said she and Chief Hegermiller attended.

The Town Board appointed members to its LEAP in November in order to comply with an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo requiring all municipalities to adopt a policing plan by April 1, 2021, by creating a task force of law enforcement, government and community members to examine police reform.

The Executive Order mandated that police agencies examine community perceptions regarding policing and policies.

The town also issued an online survey to gauge people’s views about the Riverhead Police Department, which was available to the public until Dec. 31.

The survey was also required by the governor’s Executive Order.

Chief Hegermiller said that more than 1,200 people responded to the survey.

The town will have to take all of the data it receives from the survey and then the LEAP panel will write a report that will have to be adopted by the Town Board and sent to the governor’s office by April 1.

The panel’s core members are Ms. Aguiar, Chief Hegermiller and Councilman Frank Beyrodt; Dwayne Eleazer of Stop the Violence; the Rev. Mary Cooper of House of Praise; town Anti-Bias Task Force chair Connie Lassandro, who co-chairs the panel with attorney Annette Totten; community member Jeremy Hobson; attorney Lane Bubka, who advises the youth court; Carlos Flores, owner of Che Argentinian Steakhouse in Riverhead; Patricia Theodorou of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office; Gwen Mack of Church of the Harvest in Riverhead; Anti Bias Task Force member Roberto Ramos; Sarah Mayo of the NAACP; and deputy town attorney Dan McCormick.

The town also created a related advisory committee, which meets less frequently. Its members are Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio; Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate; Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center; Robyn Berger-Gaston of Family Service League; Daniel O’Shea, executive director of Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach; Ron Schmitt, a retired Suffolk correction officer; and Baycan Fideli, director of public and fire safety at Suffolk County Community College..