Riverhead Police Department headquarters in January 2021. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town has released its police reform and reinvention plan, mandated by an executive order of the governor last June. (Read full plan below.)

The plan, produced by an advisory panel appointed by the town board in October to comply with the executive order, covers six broad areas: equality and social justice, accountability and transparency, community relations, policy and procedures, training and state-mandated changes.

The plan recognizes that the Riverhead Town Police Department does not reflect the town’s demographics. Its officers are 89% male and 91% white, though the town’s population is 49% male and 72% white, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimate.

While Hispanic/Latino residents make up more than 15% of the town’s population Hispanic/Latino persons make up just over 3% of the town’s police force. Black/African American residents comprise about 10% of the town’s population, according to the same census estimate, but only 1% of police officers.

The plan does not state whether the Riverhead Police Department statistics cited regarding the department’s demographics include civilian employees of the department or only police officers. Police Chief David Hegermiller said Monday the numbers only include sworn officers, not civilian employees. According to the plan, there are currently 88 full-time sworn officers (14 supervisors and 74 officers) and approximately 53 full- and part-time support staff.

The plan includes recommendations for diversifying the town’s police force, by collaborating with the county’s civil service department, community organizations and the community college and/or BOCES for outreach to underrepresented communities and to provide assistance for overcoming hiring hurdles.

It says the department it has already completed a recommendation to expand diversity and bias awareness training to include marginalized populations such as homeless, substance use disorders, minority, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) communities, as well as training to recognize systemic racism.

The plan recommends the town establish a civilian panel to review personnel complaints, investigations and decisions, to ensure that best practices in personnel actions are being followed.

The Riverhead Town Board acts as the civilian review panel and state-authorized arbitrators in disciplinary matters. The town board by state law has the authority to adopt rules and regulations for the handling of charges made against any member of the police department.

The plan calls for the town to establish a formal personnel complaint review process with the town board.

The plan also calls for the town to establish an online complaint reporting system and for the department to publicly report complaint statistics. The department will complete this within the next one to two years, according to the plan.

The department will also begin to include use of force data in its public monthly reports.

Police officer body cameras, a monitoring system advocated by civil rights organizations and some elected officials — but met with resistance by police unions nationwide — won’t be coming to Riverhead Town Police any time soon. This recommendation won’t be implemented for another five to six years, according to the plan. The department will take a number of steps, including: establishing a timeline for the implementation of body worn cameras; negotiating a possible stipend with the PBA/SOA for wearing body cameras; researching budget constraints, obtaining grants and additional funding if possible; and developing and adopting rules and procedures regarding the implementation of body worn cameras.

The plan calls for the department to improve community relations and public awareness by doing more public outreach, increasing positive communications, and continuing existing programs such as “Coffee with a Cop” and National Night Out. The department should also continue to participate in programs such as Riverhead CAP’s community coalition and to continue to participate on town committees such as the Anti-Bias Task Force.

The department will continue ongoing community listening sessions, the plan says. The advisory panel held two community listening sessions in January. Both were held via Zoom due to pandemic constraints. The first one, held Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. had 35 participants, according to the plan. The second, held Thursday, Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. had 40 participants.

Many of the recommendations in the plan have already been completed by the department, according to the document. These include pursuing NYS accreditation, which the Riverhead Police Department achieved in 2011 and expanding de-escalation and use of force training for officers.

The plan publishes the results of a community survey completed by approximately 1,200 people.

Of those, 425 were over age 60, 484 were ages 40-59, 143 were 30-39 and 81 were under the age of 30. Fifty-four people chose not to answer.

Seventy-one percent of the people responding (813 people) were white, 5.7% (65 people) were Black or African-American and 5% (59 people) were Hispanic or Latino. Approximately 18% chose not to answer.

Overall the people completing the survey gave the Riverhead Police Department high marks, with 52% rating the services provided as excellent and 34% rating the services “good.” Just 1.5% said they were “poor” and 10% responded that they were “fair.”

Most people — 75% — believe the department can be “trusted to make non-biased decisions.

Ninety-six percent (1,153 out of 1,200 respondents) said they have never been a victim of racial profiling by Riverhead police.

Similar results were reported for the question of whether the respondent felt they were “treated with respect” in their most recent interaction with Riverhead police — 92.5% said yes.

Sixty-two percent said they are “certain” the department will fully investigate a police misconduct complaint against one of its officers.

The document, which was posted on the town’s website this weekend, discusses the process undertaken by Riverhead Town to review its police department’s practices, policies and community relations, as well as the results of a community survey and two listening sessions conducted by the panel, recommendations for action and the police department’s responses.

The town board will hold a public hearing on the police reform plan on Tuesday, March 16 at 2:10 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall. Public participation will be via Zoom videoconference only. The town will provide the videoconference link before the meeting.

Riverhead Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan

Editor’s note: This story was amended on March 8 to reflect additional information provided by the chief of police in response to questions about the plan. It has also been amended to clarify that the public hearing will take place via Zoom videoconference.

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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.