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Riverhead police chief looking to fund body cameras in next budget

The Riverhead Police Department is looking into purchasing body cameras for its officers next year, Chief David Hegermiller said at a virtual Synergy meeting Monday night.

The department doesn’t have funds for the equipment right now — the chief said one quote put a $1,600 price on each camera — but he hopes money will be put aside in the next round of budgeting. 

“I think that’s the first step,” Chief Hegermiller said. 

Riverhead’s Law Enforcement Advisory Panel, a community group formed in response to a mandate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, outlined several recommendations aimed at improving police and community relations, one of which involves using body cameras to improve police accountability and transparency . Chief Hegermiller said he hasn’t reached out to Suffolk County about body cameras, but his department is in communication with other East End police departments about finding a way to afford the equipment. 

The conversation was part of Riverhead’s first Synergy meeting between the town police department and community members, organized by the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force. Suffolk County Community College professor James Banks — who has facilitated similar Synergy meetings in Hauppauge, Southampton, Southold and at the college — moderated the discussion. 

“The goal is for us to introduce and further open communication between law enforcement and other community members and organizations, so that we might reinforce the avenues for community policing, and improving community and law enforcement relationships,” Mr. Banks said. “We also want to brainstorm new ideas, while reviewing what is already being done by the quality law enforcement agency here in Riverhead.” 

One question posed by Mr. Banks asked how the Riverhead Police Department is working to recruit more diverse applicants. In reponse, Chief Hegermiller said it’s “really out of our control.” 

“We all know what should happen,” he said. “However, we rely on Suffolk County Civil Service for the testing and we rely on the county PD for the background investigation … Usually one out of 10 people make it, one out of eight people make it, somewhere around there … I get very limited choices.” 

One participant asked later in the discussion if the police force has made a strong effort to recruit in communities of color and promote the civil service test, but Chief Hegermiller said he doesn’t believe that’s where the gap is.  

“I think Black people take the test as much as white people take the test, proportionately, if that makes any sense. So the problem is, once they make it, they’re not passing through the rest of the system,” the chief said.

Mr. Banks said he’s been part of conversations about changing the application system to reject fewer people of color and pointed out that aspects might be a cultural issue. He’s also helped facilitate free courses at Suffolk County Community College in which officers taught prospective applicants how to pass the police exams, he said.  

Christopher North, a member of Southold’s police advisory committee and secretary of the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, asked how the Riverhead department reaches out to local youth. 

Chief Hegermiller said the department is hoping to reinstate its local school resource officer once school resumes normally, and also collaborates with the local Council for Unity, which teaches interpersonal and life skills to help reduce and resolve personal conflicts, gang violence, bullying and intolerance.  

Besides training from the police academy, officers are participating in bias training with the county on all levels, according to the chief. The East End also offers an emotional support team for officers. 

Around 37 people attended Monday’s virtual event. The Anti-Bias Task Force plans to hold similar discussions at least three times a year, with the next Synergy meeting planned for October. 

Riverhead department heads and public-facing officials will participate in a three-part implicit bias training that begins next week. There are a few seats still available that are open to the public. Anyone interested should email [email protected]

One series is being offered on Monday mornings and another is available on Tuesday evenings.