Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Chief of Police David Hegermiller at work in the supervisor's office March 26, 2020. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Police Department monthly reports may not accurately reflect Riverhead’s crime data, according to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who also serves as commissioner of the town police department. The supervisor said during the RiverheadLOCAL debate Thursday night she believes the department is “indexing crimes that are not necessarily the crime rate,” by including “very minor offenses” with the more serious crimes.

“I think that there is a reporting problem,” Aguiar said. “I think they lump in certain calls, and the actual numbers— this is what the government has from us. I will be reviewing our crime stat — what gets reported, and what’s reported on our report. We have found as of today that there is — there was some inclusions that shouldn’t be there in the crime rate, and we’re going to be working on that,” she said. 

Aguiar said during the debate she reviewed the data with Police Chief David Hegermiller earlier on Thursday. 

“We are looking to see if certain crimes like summonses are indicated into the crime rate in Riverhead,” she said. “We were pulling up analysis. Our crime rate has gone down — in the homicide, in rape, in robbery. All property crimes are down, all burglaries are down, larceny theft is down, and our incidents are also down substantially,” Aguiar said. 

To back up her assertion, the supervisor held up a graph printed from the FBI Crime Data Explorer website depicting “index crimes” reported by the Riverhead Town Police Department as part of the ​​Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The index crimes, are both violent crimes  — murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — and property crimes — burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. 

The total “index crimes” — violent crimes and property crimes together — reported by Riverhead Police to the N.Y. State Department of Criminal Justice and then to the FBI, dropped 16.3% from 2019 to 2020 — a total of 601 in 2019 and 503 in 2020.

But “index crimes” are only a portion of the total criminal incidents reported by police. In 2019, Riverhead Police reported 1,826 criminal incidents. In 2020, RPD reported 1,887. Total criminal incidents reported in 2021 so far are on track to exceed those reported last year, based on reports for the first eight months of the year.

Criminal incidents that are not among the “index crimes” reported by the FBI include shoplifting, aggravated harassment, criminal mischief, criminal possession of a controlled substance, forcible touching, possession of a weapon, menacing, reckless endangerment, public lewdness, and others.

“We have to re-assess how we report crime and at the town level and how we report it to the FBI, and that we’re working on now,” Aguiar said Thursday.

Hegermiller said in an interview today he does not believe anything in his reports mischaracterize the data in any way.

“She’s looking at something totally different,” the chief said, referring to the “index crime” reports, which are captured by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

The reports he completes monthly and tallies annually take in more data than the UCR program, he said.

Criminal incidents were slightly up in 2019 compared to 2018, he said. They rose about 3% in 2020. “And what I’m looking at right now, I’m saying it’s going to be up again” in 2021, the chief said. “Identity theft is through the roof. It’s actually driving up our percentage.”

Hegermiller said the UCR program captures the top crimes. “That’s what you want to know,” he said. “Violent crime is what you want to know. Do you really care if your neighbor gets their identity stolen?” But, he added, “we put it all out there.”

Aguiar said in an interview Friday she intended to undertake “an extensive process to see how we document the crimes” in Riverhead. “I have no idea how he documents his crimes,” she said. 

Aguiar also maintains that other towns have seen crime rates increase while Riverhead’s crime rate has gone down. She has said crime in other towns has gone up “exponentially” and there have been a “record-breaking” number of shootings.

“As concerns Suffolk County, shootings went up tremendously,” Aguiar said Friday. “I’ve spoken to supervisors. They’ve had a large raise in crimes, especially violent crimes.” 

According to “index crime” data reported by the N.Y. State Department of Criminal Justice and the FBI, violent crimes in Suffolk County, reported by Suffolk County Police, fell between 2019 and 2020, from 1,229 to 1,166. Murders rose from 24 in 2019 to 30 in 2020. Aggravated assault, generally assault with a weapon, fell from 719 in 2019 to 698.

“Some towns had excessive shootings,” Aguiar said, but could not elaborate. “I have to call out because you want the numbers. There were towns, we have spoken at the supervisors meetings, that they have seen, certain towns have seen an increase, a large increase in crime. Overall it has gone down. And that — those stats are in Suffolk County. You can go on to the Suffolk County website. So when you look at them, collectively, they’re going down, but some towns have an increase substantially,” Aguiar said.

The five East End towns have their own police departments. They report criminal incidents directly to the N.Y. State Department of Criminal Justice and the FBI. Southampton Town reported a total of 520 “index crime” incidents in 2019 and 633 in 2020. Southold Town reported 227 in 2019 and 282 in 2020. In East Hampton the number of “index crime” incidents went down in 2020 compared to 2019, from 175 to 153. Shelter Island Town reported 3 index crimes in 2019 and gave no report in 2020.

The five western towns in Suffolk are in the Suffolk County Police District, which is served by the Suffolk County Police Department. The county police department reports crime statistics separately to the state and FBI for all crimes in the police district. 

“Each town has their crime stats,” Aguiar said in the interview Friday. “Each town has to report their crime to the county and the county reports it,” she said.

That’s not how crime reporting takes place in the Suffolk County Police District, according to the Suffolk County Police Department’s public information office.  The county police department does not get crime statistics from towns within the district.

“The Suffolk County Police Department reports data on criminal incidents that occur within the police district to the New York State Department of  Criminal Justice Services on a monthly basis. A report  is generated in-house specifically to capture the data on police reports required by DCJS,” the public information office said in response to RiverheadLOCAL’s inquiry into crime data reporting for the five western Suffolk towns. 

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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.