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Riverhead Town facing police shortage following retirements, delay bringing in new recruits

When the Riverhead Town Board hired 10 new police officers last Tuesday, it was responding to one of the highest number of retirements in recent memory, according to Police Chief David Hegermiller. 

The chief added that he expects at least one more retirement soon.

But the new hires won’t immediately fill the void left by departing retirees because only four of them can start work right away.

Those four include three part-time officers and one officer currently with the New York City Police Department.

A fifth officer is also an NYPD member, but is on a military leave, according to the chief.

The other five will all need to attend the police academy before they can be certified as police officers, the chief said. Usually, that would mean going to the Suffolk County Police Academy in Yaphank, but a county police spokesperson said no date has been set yet for the next class there. .

Chief Hegermiller said the new hires can attend “any academy that certifies officers in New York State,” but noted that the closest alternative, the Nassau County Police Academy, already started its next class a couple of weeks ago.

In neighboring Southold Town, Police Chief Martin Flatley said his department is currently down four officers due to retirements and is expecting two more in the first quarter of 2021. This past summer, Chief Flatley requested a $1 million increase in town spending for 2021, citing a shortage of manpower and anticipated turnover in the upper ranks. 

Asked if he thought COVID-19 or hostile attitudes toward police in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota played a role in the large number of retirements, Chief Hegermiller said, “No one has expressed that to me, but who knows what’s in their minds?”

Across the nation reports have emerged of departments facing an increase of retirements and shortage of officers. CNN reported in July the NYPD had seen a “surge” in the number of officers filing for retirement. In November, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported dwindling numbers of officers in large urban departments like Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Atlanta and elsewhere.

Comparing Riverhead police crime statistics from the first 11 months of 2019 to the first 11 months of 2020, shows not much difference. Overall criminal incidents rose from 1,703 to 1,731. More specifically, assaults increased from 8 to 10; burglaries dropped from 49 to 40; petit larcenies increased from 572 to 583; and grant larcenies rose from 144 to 178, according to department statistics. 

“Not much has changed,” the chief told the Town Board on Dec. 23. “Criminal incidents are up by a small percentage.”

Department revenue from things like fees, accident scene photos and copies of reports increased over the first 11 months, from $121,251 to $128,525.

Domestic incidents jumped from 59 in November 2019 to 70 in November 2020, although they dropped from 840 to 805 when comparing the first 11 months of the previous two years.