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Police chief, Town Board discuss downtown safety after recent armed robberies

Despite some recent incidents involving guns pointed and even fired at people in Riverhead, officials say it’s just a “perception” that downtown has a crime problem. 

They say much of the crime that’s occurred involved disputes among people who know one another.

“It’s really a perception and it’s always been a perception” that downtown Riverhead has a crime problem, said Councilman Tim Hubbard, a retired town police officer. “The vast majority of crimes, by and far, are between people who know each other. They’re not random acts of violence, thank God.”

“And really, there is not a lot of crime down on Main Street,” Police Chief David Hegermiller told the Town Board at its work session last Thursday. “It’s mostly quality of life issues. I check that every month, to see how much crime was committed downtown as compared to the rest of the town, and it’s a small percentage.” 

“We are investing millions of dollars downtown, and the last thing we want to see is it going backward in terms of crime and safety,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

He said the police department did a good job in recent weeks, making three arrests of armed suspects. 

“We had a couple of armed robberies and a menacing case, all involving handguns,” he said. “The police department made a spectacular arrest of three subjects — one of whom was a prior felon.”

In the past two weeks, police received calls about a 21-year-old man who fired a gun at a gas station clerk on Route 58 and a report that a man was robbed of money at gunpoint in the Peconic River parking lot — both on Nov. 1. 

Police arrested Matthew Pittman, 21, for both crimes, as well as two 17-year-olds. Officers also recovered a 9mm “ghost gun,” which is an unserialized and untraceable firearm that can be bought online and assembled at home. 

A few days later, on Nov. 3, a taxi driver reported being robbed at gunpoint. 

Recent statistics indicate large increases in crime, although officials say that has more to do with the a big drop in crime that occurred during COVID-19. 

Chief Hegermiller said the stats are now going back to pre-COVID levels, which accounts for the increase. 

Between January and October 2022, arrests jumped to 766, compared to 363 for the same period in 2021 — almost doubling.

During the same period, criminal summonses jumped from 5,635 in 2021 to 9,645 in 2022, according to town statistics.

Chief Hegermiller said his department currently has 87 officers, and Supervisor Yvette Aguiar has included seven more officers in her 2023 budget.