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Mar 14, 2012 10:34 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town PBA Requests Whereabouts Of Personnel Records In Light of DA Investigation

Mar 19, 2012 9:39 AM

The Southampton Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the union representing Town Police officers, on Monday called for town officials to immediately locate all police officer personnel records and provide a history of how such records have been handled, citing the need for members’ protection and privacy.

The request came in response to reports of a Suffolk County district attorney’s office investigation of allegations that police documents, including internal investigation files, were improperly destroyed or removed from Town Police headquarters in Hampton Bays over several days in mid-May, just prior to a change in police administration—and reports that certain police records may have been secured by the town clerk’s office.

“Given the nature of our duties as police officers, the personal information related to all our members must be kept in a secured and confidential manner, as dictated by state law, as to protect all from abusive exploitation of personally damaging information, and the risk of disclosing officers’ place of residence and family information, which could compromise their physical safety,” a letter signed by PBA Vice President Kevin Gwinn stated. The letter, addressed to Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato, was hand-delivered to the town clerk’s office on Monday morning, Officer Gwinn said.

“We have people who worked in an undercover capacity,” said Officer Gwinn. “So we don’t want those addresses, family information, personal information getting out into the wrong hands, and now the town will be putting these members and their families at a physical risk.”

The PBA has requested the names of all current and former town officials and police administrators who might have handled police personnel records during the time being investigated. The 73-member PBA, which includes patrol officers, undercover narcotics officers and detectives, all below the rank of sergeant, also requested that the current storage location and prior locations of the records be disclosed.

The documents in question include several boxes of files detailing internal investigations, according to town sources with knowledge of the situation. The documents are alleged to have been destroyed or removed from headquarters during a transition in leadership. Former Captain Anthony Tenaglia, an unsuccessful candidate for the chief’s position last May, led the department during the time in question, between the April 16 retirement last year of former Police Chief James Overton and the tenure of current Chief William Wilson Jr., who took over on May 16.

Several town sources confirmed that the D.A.’s office has stepped in to look at reports last year that police documents, perhaps including personnel records, were shredded or removed during the transition. At the time, officials at Town Hall were concerned enough about the situation to send an observer to police headquarters, one source said, noting that the culling of documents was being conducted by high-ranking police officials. At least one Town Board member has been interviewed by the D.A.’s office in connection with the probe.

Last week, then-Lieutenant Robert Pearce—whom the Town Board promoted to captain on Monday—said that “everything” was turned over to Town Hall, and that he does not believe there were any missing documents. He could not explain exactly what was turned over, when or why.

On Tuesday, Officer Gwinn said police records are supposed to be under the strict care and security of the police agency. The 25-year veteran of the force said he has never heard of police documents being turned over to Town Hall. “That’s not the normal practice,” he said. “This is the first I’m hearing of it, which alarms me even more.” Officer Gwinn said the chief of police or acting chief of police would be in charge of police records.

“I’m under the understanding that they have always been kept at police headquarters,” he said, citing a collective bargaining agreement that allows officers to view their own records. The PBA letter to the town cites state Civil Rights law, stating that all personnel records, including those involving internal investigations and discipline involving police officers, are considered protected documents.

Ms. Scarlato did not return a request for comment Wednesday morning. Officer Gwinn said that as of Tuesday, the PBA had not yet received a reply to the letter.

Chief Wilson, Chief Overton and Capt. Tenaglia did not return calls seeking comment.

Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer said she could not comment on the records, citing the possibility of an investigation.

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The cops can't find their own records and are asking the town board for the wear abouts? You can't make this up.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Mar 16, 12 10:06 AM
Did you ever have a job, Chief? The drones don't usually get to be guardians of their own personnel files, just like the rank and file cops don't get to keep theirs. The job of record keeping is assigned to department management and the way that job has been done recently has been brought under question by the District Attorney.

Would you have the PBA just take it on faith that nothing nefarious has taken place with their personnel (and personal) information? The recent promotion of ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Mar 16, 12 11:38 PM
Who has time to keep records when you have a guaranteed six-figure job for life with plenty of time for 2nd and 3rd careers?
By littleplains (305), olde england on Mar 19, 12 12:41 PM
Strange things happening here with the Board and the Police. Strange indeed!
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Mar 16, 12 12:14 PM
So....if the SH Town clerk has the records, can anyone FOIL them and aquire personal file information of all the officers in town. That may not be a good idea.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Mar 16, 12 2:00 PM
No, there are many documents (like most personnel records) that are not subject to FOIL laws
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Mar 17, 12 2:41 PM
I'd call the PBA asking for the paperwork progress!! In the past, the PBA head would simply steal them out of the Chiefs safe.
By G (342), Southampton on Mar 17, 12 2:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
It's a Max Sennett komedy but it's costing us $$150K/kop.

Wouldn't it make better sense just to start fresh?
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 17, 12 8:44 PM
Time to prohibit anything more than incidental non-police employment, and none in the jurisdiction that officer patrols. Too many conflicts of interest, and the $150 base pay is for some of them less than half what they earn. Complete nonesense they cannot police themselves. Chief Wilson's transferring ownership/management of his security company to his wife was a sham transaction - with dishonest game-players like this who can have respoct for them? 20 years ago a probationary cop drove drunk ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Mar 20, 12 12:40 AM
1 member liked this comment