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Candidates say town has failed to get security cameras installed downtown

Black wires dangle from the base of a surveillance camera system attached to a pole in Riverhead’s Grangebel Park. All that’s missing is the camera.

A handful of other poles throughout the park feature the same setup: the base attached to a pole with no camera.

So what happened to the cameras?

Councilwoman Catherine Kent and Evelyn Hobson-Womack, two Democrats running for election in November, said the town has failed to get the system up and running after two years.

“This security system was purchased through grants without cost to taxpayers,” said Ms. Hobson-Womack, who recently retired as a Riverhead detective and is now running for a town council position. “Not only was the police department gaining the value of having a 24/7 view of our downtown, but active security cameras would add an additional layer of safety as a powerful deterrent against crime. But the cameras aren’t up yet.”

The press conference in Grangebel Park followed reports of a pair of downtown robberies, one late last Thursday night near the Chase Bank and another that occurred early Saturday in the First Street parking lot near First Congregational Church.

Ms. Kent, who is running for town supervisor, said it’s “unacceptable” that the cameras are not yet operating and pinned blame on the supervisor’s office.

“I have done multiple attempts of follow up on this, but again, the supervisor’s closed-door policy and lack of strong work session agendas are challenging for moving projects forward,” she said.

Both Ms. Hobson-Womack and Ms. Kent raised the concerns again during the Tuesday afternoon Town Board meeting.

The board voted in August 2019 to spend $36,000 from a Community Benefit Agreement with a solar energy company to install security cameras at Railroad Avenue and in Grangebel Park. At the time, the town had already allocated more than $160,000 for the camera project, according to prior reports.

Cameras at Railroad Avenue are currently operating, according to Police Chief David Hegermiller.

The camera fixture attached to a pole at Grangebel Park. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“Installing the cameras has not been an easy task,” he said in an interview. “We got the railroad station done and that took forever because of the connectivity to the internet. I’m having the same issue at Grangebel. It’s getting from Grangebel out to the Optimum cable line.”

The town attorney’s office has been involved in negotiating with Cablevision on the connectivity, while also working with the vendor that sold the cameras to the town, the chief said. The pandemic exacerbated the delays, he said.

The chief added that he “can’t wait to have the cameras online.”

“It will be helpful, but it has been frustrating,” he said, noting that everything came to a “grinding halt” over the lack of internet connection.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said: “Optimum is having difficulty bringing in the connectivity and piping. Our attorney’s office and the police chief are well aware of the delay. Unfortunately, Optimum customer service is not what it use to be and we have been putting pressure on them.” 

The cameras at Grangebel Park are part of Phase 2 of a larger project to install cameras throughout downtown, Ms. Kent said. The riverfront area would be Phase 3, followed by an area on West Main Street and then the rest of Main Street in the Suffolk Theater area as the final phase.

Ms. Kent said the cameras for the railroad area ended up costing less because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority already had some cameras located there that the police department was able to connect to.

“The bottom line in all of this is we pre-purchased these cameras and we’ve had these cameras and I thought it was kind of disturbing to see them hanging out up there not hooked up,” Ms. Kent said.

Chief Hegermiller said the camera locations at Grangebel Park would not have aided the police investigation into the robbery at the bank parking lot. No arrests had been made in either case as of Tuesday afternoon. 

At a presentation before the Town Board in February 2019, representatives of A+ Technology Security of Bay Shore proposed locations for more than 30 eight-megapixel, 360-degree cameras with video and photo capabilities. A year earlier, Chief Hegermiller and Det. Sgt. Ed Frost met with the board to request a camera surveillance system.

“Once we get Grangebel done, we’ll move on to the next phase,” the chief said Tuesday.

Ms. Aguiar said security cameras are not a sole solution to crime reduction, but are rather one tool that can be used primarily for investigative purposes after the fact while serving as a deterrent. She said she was surprised that Ms. Hobson-Womack did not reach out to her office, the police chief or town attorney prior to holding a press conference.