Town council candidate Evelyn Hobson-Womack criticized the town’s handling of the installation of security cameras during a press conference this morning.
The town authorized the security camera project in August 2019 under Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith using more than $160,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds and $36,000 in “community benefit funds” paid by a solar power developer. The project moved ahead and some of the cameras were even installed on lampposts, but without connections to the police station.
Hobson-Womack was joined by Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who is running for town supervisor, next to one of the cameras in Grangebel Park this morning. Hobson-Womack said that residents should feel “safe day and night” in the park, which holds community events like Reflextions: Art in the Park.
“This security system was purchased through grants without cost to taxpayers,” Hobson-Womack said. “Not only would the police department gain the value of having a 24/7 view on our downtown, but active security cameras would add an additional layer of safety as a powerful deterrent against crime.”
Hobson-Womack, who retired from the Riverhead Police Department last month after 28 years of service, said the two robberies that happened downtown this week — one in the First Street parking lot and the other at the Chase Bank next to the park — “might not have happened at all if working cameras were assisting our police officers, providing a strong deterrent to crime, or at least providing a recording to help them solve the crime,” she said.
“I’m here to ask why, nearly two years after this enormous investment in the security and safety of our town, are we having to talk about this now? How can something like this get overlooked or ignored or just not deemed important enough for your safety?” Hobson-Womack said.
The town is currently in a “verbal agreement” and has no written contract with Optimum for the equipment to operate the cameras, according to Deputy Town Attorney Daniel McCormick. McCormick said he sent an email to Optimum for an update and is waiting to hear back on the status of the equipment.
Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told RiverheadLOCAL this morning that she did not know the details of the agreement with Optimum, but said the town is waiting on Optimum for wiring and relay boxes for the cameras. She said the town has a meeting with Optimum about the project later this week.
“Should [Kent] have contacted us she would have had a better understanding of the status of Optimum and the infrastructure concerns that we are addressing,” Aguiar said.
Kent said she has repeatedly brought the issue of the cameras up to the attorney’s office and in work sessions when the police chief was present, but did not get adequate responses.
“I have done multiple attempts to follow up on this, but again, the supervisor’s closed-door policy and lack of strong work session agendas are challenging for moving projects forward,” said Kent, a Democrat looking to unseat Aguiar in November.
Hobson-Womack addressed the town board at its meeting this afternoon, where she read similar comments. During the meeting, Aguiar characterized Hobson-Womack’s comments as being about the ongoing investigations into this week’s robberies and then criticized her for discussing ongoing police investigations, accusing the retired detective of “victimizing victims.” Hobson-Womack did not discuss either of the ongoing investigation other than to say that cameras could both deter crimes and assist police in solving them. Aguiar also criticized Hobson-Womack for “campaigning” at the town board meeting.
At the end of her remarks at Grangebel, Hobson-Womack used some time to pitch her campaign for town council. The first African American woman to serve as a police officer in Riverhead, she announced her candidacy for town council on the Democratic ticket in February.
“I’m not a politician, nor do I want to be,” Hobson-Womack said. “I want to be a servant and a voice for our community void of all the politics that have divided us. I don’t know everything. Hell, some may say I don’t know nothing at all. I may not have all the answers for everything. But I promise you what I don’t know, I don’t mind reaching out to my constituents to become more knowledgeable. But not just them, I would never hesitate to engage with the community and get their consensus on certain politics and matters such as this one.”
Hobson-Womack is one of four people running for two seats up for election this November: Kent’s vacant seat and the seat currently occupied by Councilman Ken Rothwell, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio when she took her seat in Albany. Rothwell and Chamber of Commerce President Robert Kern are on the Republican candidates running against Hobson-Womack and Juan Micieli-Martinez on the Democratic ticket.
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