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Jul 27, 2011 10:09 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Police To Tackle Case Overload Amid Low Staffing Levels

Jul 27, 2011 11:27 AM

With a diminishing number of detectives handling hundreds of cases, a bleak budgetary outlook and an overall force size at its lowest level in 15 to 18 years, Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. said he is being forced to take a hard look at reevaluating the department’s operations—and that everything is on the table.

“If staffing would allow, I would keep all the specialized units that we have in place,” he said. “That is not the budgetary reality that law enforcement is facing.”

Some of the specialized units include, for example, the Street Crime Unit, which comprises one sergeant and about four police officers who investigate drug sales and trafficking undercover, and the Community Response Unit, a group of uniformed officers—one sergeant and six police officers—who enforce quality of life issues, among other groups.

The chief, who assumed control of the department in May when he succeeded Chief James P. Overton, who retired, said he does not yet know how any particular unit will be affected, but that he will have to reevaluate how the department conducts investigations and narcotics offenses and redeploy existing staffing creatively.

Chief Wilson said two priorities are to increase the number of detectives to a recommended staffing level and to add one or two officers to the East End Drug Task Force, a group formed by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in 1987 to bring together undercover officers from all East End police departments in an effort to target regional drug distribution rings on the North and South forks.

The Town Police Department currently has 94 sworn officers—a number that includes the chief—but come September that figure is expected to drop to 92 with the pending retirements of Detective Sergeant Randy Hintze and another detective whom the chief said he would not identify, citing it as a personnel matter. About a year and a half ago, then-Detective Sue Ralph was made sergeant, and her spot on the detective squad was never filled.

The department has five detectives—about half of the recommended number of 9.4, based on International Association of Chiefs of Police and state guidelines for a department of its size, the chief explained. Because of the small size of the investigative unit, the detectives are juggling an extremely heavy load, numbering hundreds of cases, he said.

“The most cases I would want one detective responsible for at any given time is about 40,” he said. The town has just one more detective than the Southampton Village Police Department has, for example, but a much larger region to cover: 156 square miles, 30 miles from end to end, with a full-time population of 55,210, which swells to nearly three times that size in summer with second-home residents and daytrippers, the chief noted.

The detectives are responsible for investigating all felony cases—such as those involving narcotics, robberies, burglaries, grand larcenies, credit card and bank fraud, identity theft, arson and all unintended-death investigations—fatal motor vehicle accidents and others involving serious injury, and processing property and evidence.

“The last thing that I want to happen is for a homeowner to arrive at their residence, discover that they have been the victim of a burglary and because we don’t have the personnel available to respond, now the police department is forced into a position to tell that homeowner, ‘Listen,’ we don’t have any detectives available. We’ll get to you when we get to you. For all intents and purposes, that homeowner is being victimized a second time,” the chief said. The chief said he has interviewed 11 interested officers for possible reassignment into the detective division, which he wants to have a staff of nine.

Sergeant Lisa Costa has been tapped to become the new detective sergeant upon Det. Sgt. Hintze’s departure.

Internal reshuffling would then take place to replace those patrol officers.

“In a perfect world, we would hire to replace the bodies that are on patrol,” Chief Wilson said. “The fact of the matter is that between the 2-percent tax cap and other fiscal restraints, we’re going to have to be creative and jockey my existing personnel around.”

In addition, Chief Wilson said he plans to select one or two officers to the East End Drug Task Force within the next few weeks, which, he said, could open up new avenues of funding, as well as resources.

“You send one or two people to the East End Drug Task Force, and you get the entire East End Drug Task Force in return,” he said. “That’s just good business, and it makes sense.”

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By how many officers has the complement of the STPD been reduced?

Has there been a concurrent uptick in criminal activity?

If not, then it is but prudent and efficient to continue the reduction by stages until the suppression of crime is adversely affected, then increase staffing the the immediately prior level.

At $$150K/yr./cop, maximum productivity is essential.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 27, 11 9:36 PM
So, we should reduce officers until crime gets out of control and then increase staff? Let's all just start leaving our front doors unlocked and hang big neon signs outside that say "cash and jewelry inside". What a great idea.
By concerned citizen (41), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 11 11:52 PM
Highhatsize, go take the Southampton Town Police Civilian Academy Classes and tell me how they are. I am sure you will provide me with a clear, non-bias view. I wonder what extent they let you get involved?
By mightycolemack (15), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 11 6:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Non-bias from HHS? Not likely.
By concerned citizen (41), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 11 9:27 PM
to mightycolemack:

How could I possibly accept your invitation without dissuading everyone else from attending? If the cops suspected that I was a participant, every civilian in the class would make their short list of suspects for my identity. How many residents would choose thus to risk their driving privileges?

to concerned citizen:

And yet, while you may dispute them, my arguments are always rational. As in the instant case wherein I note that the article suggests ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 30, 11 11:39 AM
Just read this one.. Not sure what Cocky Lockey and Ducky Lucky means. Are they posters here. I do however, thoroughly enjoy your reply, I LOL'd.
By mightycolemack (15), Hampton Bays on Sep 21, 11 9:30 PM