The crime reports regularly provided to the media by the Riverhead Police Department contain only a fraction of the arrests actually made by Riverhead Police, a RiverheadLOCAL analysis disclosed.
An examination of the Riverhead Justice Court dockets, which show dates of arrest and arresting agencies for all defendants appearing in court, revealed that Riverhead Police made 83 arrests during the month of October.
In contrast, the “Riverhead Police Department Press Report” — the chronological list of incidents to which Riverhead police officers respond around the clock — together with police department media releases, disclosed only 28 arrests during the month of October — about one-third of the arrests actually made by Riverhead cops in that month.
A similar disparity existed for the month of September, when justice court dockets showed 62 arrests by Riverhead Police, but the department’s press reports and media releases reported just 20 arrests.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said he was not aware of the disparity between actual arrests and the information released to the media.
“I can’t explain it but I can assure you it’s not intentional and I will look into it and make sure it’s rectified,” Hegermiller said Monday.
The “press report” is a daily computer printout that indicates the incident number, incident type, and the date, time and location of all incidents reported to Riverhead Police. The reports are kept at police headquarters in a loose-leaf binder made available to reporters upon request.
Police had also previously provided a “media arrest report” to reporters on request but recently stopped making that report available because of a computer programming problem that disclosed juveniles’ names. After a reporter brought the error to the sergeant’s attention, the department stopped making the media arrest report available for inspection. The media arrest report listed incident number, arrest date, defendant name and charge(s) and often included arrests that were not disclosed in the “press report.”
The justice court is the venue in which all criminal defendants arrested in Riverhead Town first appear, regardless of the seriousness of the criminal charge. Cases on the justice court docket range from vehicle and traffic law violations such as speeding, and town code violations like possession of an open alcohol container on a public street, to serious felonies including robbery, assault and rape. Most felony charges are ultimately transferred to the Suffolk County Criminal Court after the defendant’s initial appearance in town court. Misdemeanors, violations and infractions remain in the town court.
An analysis of the press reports shows that some incident numbers are missing, while others indicate an incident type that does not reflect an arrest even when one occurs. Driving while intoxicated arrests generally do not appear in the press report unless the police officer enters the incident type as something other than a DWI arrest — often as an “incident auto” — and then provides a short description that includes information about the arrest.
An examination of the court dockets shows that Riverhead Police made 18 DWI arrests during October that were not reported in the police department’s press report, media arrest report or in a press release.
The information provided by police officers for each incident varies widely. Many entries contain no descriptive information at all, while some include a sentence or two about the incident and action taken, including an arrest. The type of incident appears to bear no relation to the amount of information disclosed.
For example, a DWI arrest on Oct. 5 is missing from the press report; the incident number is skipped over in the printout. An aggravated DWI arrest on Oct. 6 appears in the press report, with a paragraph including details such as the defendant’s age and alleged blood alcohol content. An aggravated DWI arrest under Leandra’s Law (with a child in the car) on Oct. 18 is not listed in the press report at all, while another incident resulting in an aggravated DWI/Leandra’s Law arrest on Oct. 29 is entered only as a motor vehicle accident — with no mention of the arrest.
Reporting practices vary from department to department.
Southampton Town Police each Monday provide reporters with stacks of individual incident reports and arrest reports. The reports, which are redacted by police, are made available for inspection at Southampton Police headquarters. The department also regularly — almost daily and sometimes more than once a day — emails news releases to reporters, detailing arrests made by officers.
Southold Town Police email news releases for all arrests made by officers.
The frequency of news releases issued by Riverhead Police has increased in recent months, though the town still lags behind neighboring town police agencies in the number of news releases provided to the press.
“We have a small department and can’t simply can’t afford to hire a public information officer,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.
Editor’s note: Bench warrant and harassment arrests are excluded in the above arrest tallies, as are arrests for town code and other minor violations.
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