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Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar today unveiled the “Riverhead Law Enforcement Advisory Panel,” formed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s June 12 executive order mandating every locality with a law enforcement agency to develop a policing reform plan and file it with the State Budget Office by April 1.

The town board is expected to vote on a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting approving the formation of the advisory panel.

The panel, which Aguiar said will go by the acronym Riverhead-LEAP, has 14 “core” members and seven “advisory” members.

“This resulted from an unfunded mandate by the governor,” Aguiar said at today’s work session, kicking off the Riverhead Town Board’s first discussion “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative” mandated by the June 12 executive order.

“The chief executive of the town has to task the police chief or the commissioner to involve the community concerning strategy working towards reform,” Aguiar said.

“We’re fortunate here in Riverhead that we have our own police department,” the supervisor said. “Many officers live in the community, shop in the community, their kids go to school in the community and they’re engaged,” she said.

The core members of the advisory panel in addition to the supervisor, are:

  • Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller,
  • Councilman Frank Beyrodt, who serves as the town board liaison to the town’s Anti-Bias Task force,
  • Connie Lassandro, chairperson of the town’s Anti-Bias Task force,
  • Daniel McCormick, deputy town attorney
  • Patricia Theodorou, deputy chief of the trial division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office,
  • Lane Bubka, an attorney who serves as a public defender and legal consultant to the Riverhead Town Youth Court,
  • Dwayne Eleazer, cofounder of the Stop the Violence basketball tournament,
  • the Rev. Mary Cooper of House of Praise,
  • Carlos Flores, owner of Che Argentinian Steak House on Main Street,
  • Jeremy Hobson, a 2005 Riverhead High School graduate, Army veteran and reservist, who works as a counter-terrorism intelligence analyst,
  • Gwen Mack, a community activist and director of the Church of the Harvest food pantry,
  • Roberto Ramos, a business owner and a member of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force; and
  • Sarah Mayo of the NAACP and also a member of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force.

Advisory members of the panel are:

  • Councilwoman Jodi Giglio,
  • Sister Margaret Smyth of the the North Fork Spanish Apostolate,
  • Andrew Mitchell, president & CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center,
  • Robyn Berger-Gaston, division director at the Family Service League,
  • Daniel O’Shea, Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach executive director,
  • Ron Schmitt, retired, Suffolk County corrections officer; and
  • Baycan Fideli, public and fire safety director at Suffolk County Community College.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said “it’s a great list” and suggested adding the Rev. Charles Coverdale of First Baptist Church of Riverhead to the panel. Coverdale was named to the Suffolk County Police reform task force and leads a large predominantly African-American congregation in Riverhead.

“It would be good to have someone that’s on the county task force also on the Riverhead one,” Kent said.

We are a little behind because I think we’re supposed to be in phase two,” Kent said, referring to the timeline in the governor’s guidance document for localities, which was published in August. “I’m just wondering how often are you going to meet, are you going to double up?”

“We are in phase two,” Aguiar agreed. “We have met last week. We also have met — Jodi when did you meet with the diversity task force?” Aguiar asked Giglio.

“That started a long time ago,” Giglio answered.

“That was in June — June 21, I believe,” Aguiar said. “And there’s been ongoing meetings concerning — Jodi took the lead in it for Civil Service reform and she has been meeting. we have been meeting with groups the chief has been meeting so we have had efforts in the community,” Aguiar said.

Giglio said in an Oct. 1 interview the “path to diversity task force,” which was not formally created by the town board, was not formed in response to the governor’s June 12 executive order. She formed the task force a couple months earlier, she said, after two people asked her “at a Black Lives Matter rally at Stotzky Park …why Riverhead doesn’t have any Black police officers,” Giglio said.

One obstacle to a more diverse police department is the hiring process, Giglio said.

“You have to pass the tests. There are four tests. People are dropping off after they pass the written test either because of the background check or polygraph test or agility test or the investigation. And they’re dropping off,” Giglio said in the interview. She repeated this concern during today’s work session.

“Diversity is a big thing,” Hegermiller agreed. “I’ve been saying it for 20 years — even longer. We’re supposed to be representative of the community, which we’re not.”

The Riverhead Police Department currently has approximately 85 officers. Currently there is only one Black officer. (A second retired last month.) There are two Latino officers.

Fifty percent of the students enrolled in the Riverhead Central School District was Hispanic or Latino, as of the 2018-2019 school year; 10% were Black, according to data on the State Education Department’s website. That is a significant change from 10 years ago, when the district reported 7.2% of the student body was Hispanic or Latino and 28% was Black, according to the NYSED data archive. The school district boundaries are not contiguous with the town’s. The district includes portions of Southampton Town (Riverside, Northampton and Flanders) and Brookhaven Town (sections of Calverton and Manorville.)

Riverhead-LEAP is “an all-inclusive panel,” Aguiar said today. “The entire community will have full input into this task force as we move forward, she said, “We’re going to have surveys. We’re going to have online surveys. We’re going to reach out to the entire community. I think you would agree this is an all-inclusive panel,” she said.

She thanked the advisory panel volunteers for stepping up to participate. The panel will meet as a whole every two weeks and there will be phone calls and possibly small group meetings in between, she said.

“You’re doing this on your own time for the betterment of the community,” Aguiar said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.