Residents of Flanders and Riverside packed the Southampton Town Board meeting room Tuesday evening to demand more police presence and tougher law enforcement for their neighborhoods.
“Possibly the richest town on Long Island, a town with exploding reserves, doesn’t have the money to protect the most vulnerable people in the town,” Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association president Vince Taldone said.
“There have been over 100 break-ins, two home invasions, a shootout on Old Quogue Road, and there’s been no major financial response from this town,” he said, making a demand for more police. “You don’t even have to raise taxes to do this. You can use some of the reserve funds.”
Before Taldone and about a dozen others took the podium, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst announced an agreement with the Southampton Town Police union on a “new shift schedule” that she said would put “two steady patrol cars in the Riverside-Flanders area full-time.”
Under the deal, which will take effect in January, “each PBA member has agreed to work four additional days per year without increased compensation,” Throne-Holst said. That will allow for the assignment of six officers to staff the two community response unit patrol cars, she said.
In the meanwhile, “an additional squad car is being assigned to the sector every night to step up the policing there” and the town has called on resources from the county police, sheriff’s department and state police for assistance, the supervisor said.
“We take this matter very seriously,” Throne-Holst said. She assured residents that Police Chief Robert Pearce, who she said asked to attend the town board meeting last night, would continue to meet with residents to listen to their concerns. Though the supervisor said she believed the chief to be on his way to the meeting, he did not appear.
Residents told the board they have not seen evidence of additional police resources being deployed in their neighborhoods.
Flanders resident Susan Tocci said that last Friday night, when she called 911 to report prowlers — who she said were “known crackheads” — outside the home of her father’s neighbor, it took a squad car 20 minutes to arrive. Her 75-year-old father, wielding a baseball bat, had already scared the pair of would-be burglers off.
On his arrival, the police officer told her he was responding from Westhampton, Tocci said.
“That was after you assured me there was going to be more police presence,” Tocci said to Throne-Holst. “That’s unacceptable. We cannot afford to have a car coming from Westhampton to respond to a 911 call,” she said.
“I agree with you,” the supervisor replied.
Yesterday’s surprise announcement by federal prosecutors of the arrest of Councilman Bradley Bender, a Northampton resident and former FRNCA president, for his alleged involvement in a multimillion dollar drug trafficking ring, underscored the residents concerns.
“Drugs are really a scourge in our community on every level,” Taldone said. ”As we know know, it can happen to anyone,” Taldone said.
Bender, 52, was accused of buying oxycodone pills from Riverhead physician assistant Michael Troyan, who was charged Nov. 4 with dealing drugs out of his Riverhead medical office. Bender pleaded guilty in federal district court yesterday to conspiracy to distribute narcotics. He also resigned his seat on the town board, Throne-Holst told the crowd at the outset of last night’s meeting.
“As we see, drug dealers come in all forms,” Tocci said, eliciting scattered laughter from the audience. “It’s not funny,” Tocci said. “It’s a sad day in Southampton.”
Tocci said her daughter’s 10-year-old friend lives on Old Quogue where last Tuesday night a 25-year-old Riverhead man sitting in a car was shot dead in a hail of gunfire.
“The shooting occurred in front of her house,” Tocci said. “She ran and hid in a closet and prayed, she told my daughter. You have a child … hiding in a closet … in a house behind a state troopers barracks, while a man is gunned down in the street. Just think about that.”
Drugs, said Tocci and others, are the root of the area’s crime problems.
“People are afraid in their own homes and it’s not right,” said Ron Fisher of Flanders, who said he is disappointed by communication with the town.
“To not get a return phone call or any press release about what is going on, to not inform the people about what you know what is going on, is just wrong,” Fisher said.
Phil Tocci echoed that sentiment. “This here crime streak was going on for many, many weeks,” he said, referring to the rash of vehicle break-ins. People were not told about it. They couldn’t protect themselves.” Many people didn’t report what was happening because they didn’t know it was part of a bigger trend, he said.
Throne-Holst pointed to the board’s ongoing Riverside revitalization efforts.
“We need action not words,” said Carl Iacone of Flanders. “We’ve been told a lot of things in Flanders and nothing has been done. The only way we’re going to get it going is to stop the crime. The only way to stop the crime is to stop the criminals.”
Taldone said the impacts of drugs on the community are far-reaching and many are unreported. “We lost a woman last week to a batch of bad heroin, a woman who was prostituting herself to feed her drug addiction. This happens every week and it’s not reported as crime, even though these tragedies are the result of underlying criminal activity,” he said.
“We desperately need a permanent police presence on our streets.”
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