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Sep 2, 2014 3:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Future Of Westhampton Beach Police Department Uncertain As Consolidation Talks Swirl

Sep 3, 2014 8:42 AM

Two months after Police Chief Ray Dean’s retirement, Westhampton Beach Village still has no timetable for replacing him, leaving the future of the small department very much up in the air.

Meanwhile, Southampton Town officials appear eager to discuss a possible consolidation of the town and village police forces.

While some Village Board members were under the impression that they might begin interviewing police chief candidates this week, Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore—who is in charge of all hiring in Village Hall—said she is still weighing her options. “As for the chief’s position,” Ms. Moore wrote in a text message, “the trustees and I are still discussing our options.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, meanwhile, said she hopes to capitalize on the fact that the village has a new mayor, and a vacancy at the head of its police department, to resurrect discussions of a possible consolidation, which would allow the Town Police to provide services in the village.

“With the chief retiring in Westhampton [Beach] and whatever, it seems like a very poignant moment to revisit this issue,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, adding that the previous village mayor, Conrad Teller, was not open to the idea. Mr. Teller, who lost his reelection bid in June, is a former chief of both the Westhampton Beach and Southampton Town police departments.

Ms. Throne-Holst said during an interview last Thursday, August 28, that she’s had “some very preliminary conversations” with Ms. Moore and Deputy Mayor Charlie Palmer regarding consolidation, although she has not had a chance to have an official face-to-face meeting with them on the issue.

But Ms. Moore insists that she’s never spoken to Ms. Throne-Holst on the phone but has merely exchanged text messages and voicemails, none of which have mentioned either police department or consolidation talks. Ms. Moore said she “exchanged hellos” with Ms. Throne-Holst at a meeting of local mayors and supervisors held in Riverhead last week, but insists that there was no time for them to talk shop.

Ms. Throne-Holst did not respond to multiple attempts seeking clarification this week.

While consolidation would be a boon to the Town Police, which would stand to gain revenue from any agreement to provide police services in the village, Ms. Throne-Holst said the main objective of such a merger would be to save all taxpayers in the municipality money, citing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s push for such consolidation through the Department of State’s Local Government Efficiency Program. The program offers grants and other benefits to assist with consolidation, and also rewards communities that commit to sharing such services.

“One thing that we’re all very cognizant of is the governor has put out a tax rebate and abatement program for communities that not only stay under the tax cap but also seek to consolidate services,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “It’s a very timely subject and one that, I think, is incumbent on all of us as legislators to explore to best serve our constituents and provide them as much tax relief as possible.”

Westhampton Beach has set aside $2.28 million for its police department for the 2014-15 fiscal year, accounting for nearly a quarter of its $9.76 million total operating budget. The village has 11 full-time and six part-time officers, according to Westhampton Beach Police Lieutenant Trevor Gonce, who has been in charge since the former chief’s departure. The department also employs five part-time traffic control officers, two full-time dispatchers and two crossing guards.

Meanwhile, the Town Police Department has an annual operating budget of $19.7 million, with roughly $17 million of that coming from tax revenue, and it also accounts for nearly a quarter of the town’s $81.1 million budget for 2014. The town force has 103 officers, though only 89 are employed full time.

Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said he’s in favor of consolidating services whenever possible, so he feels it’s worth discussing merging or sharing services with Westhampton Beach.

Chief Pearce noted that he’s also discussed the idea with Ms. Throne-Holst but he’s waiting on the supervisor to talk with Ms. Moore before any statistical analysis is done to determine exactly how much his department stands to gain.

Ultimately, he added, it’s up to officials in Westhampton Beach to decide whether or not to go forward.

“People like local control,” he said. “Without a doubt, it’s hard to give up, so the ball is going to be in Westhampton Beach’s hand if they want to explore it.”

Ms. Moore declined to take a stand on how she would feel about consolidation. “If we were to receive a proposal, we would review and discuss it,” she wrote in a text message. “But it’s not something we are looking into at this time.”

While Village Board members Ralph Urban and Patricia DiBenedetto both noted last week that the police department has been operating sufficiently as an independent agency, Trustee Hank Tucker was the most vocal opponent to the idea of consolidation. Mr. Tucker said having a separate village department helps keep property values high and is a valuable asset to the community that should not be given up.

“That’s nothing I’m really interested in at this time,” he said of consolidation. “If others are, that’s up to them, but I feel that in our community we’re an incorporated village, and one of the benefits our community gets is a police force. I like having a police force.”

Mr. Palmer did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week.

In recent years, the town has worked to maintain police coverage in the incorporated villages of North Haven and Sagaponack, Ms. Throne-Holst said, adding that she has also approached Sag Harbor about consolidating its police department as well.

Ms. DiBenedetto said she hopes the village can hire more officers to stop that trend of reducing the staff through attrition, a policy that she said Mr. Teller had enforced during his tenure by refusing to fill openings when officers left or retired.

“Conrad, former mayor Teller, kept wanting a trimmed-down force, and it’s time to start replenishing after years of having members retire or leaving and working with a skeleton staff,” she said.

Ms. Moore said any new hires would be left up to the new chief—whomever that ends up being.

Lt. Gonce, who has been in charge of the department since Mr. Dean’s departure, said he has not been informed of any consolidation discussions nor has he been updated on the search for a new chief.

When Mr. Dean left office, he presumed Lt. Gonce would be his heir apparent as chief. That has proven to not necessarily be the case, despite the praise Lt. Gonce has received from some trustees, including Mr. Urban, the board’s former liaison to the police department.

“I think he’s done an extremely good job because it was the summer season, which is our busiest, then he had to coordinate with secret service when Hillary Clinton was in town,” Mr. Urban said. “And he’s had a number of other events to coordinate, so I think he’s done an excellent job.”

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It would be a big mistake for Westhampton Beach to give up it's police dapartment. Bigger is not necessarily better!. A former Chief from the Suffolk County Police Department said this to me years ago. There is nothing better
Than home rule and your residents and officials having control of the law enforcement function in your community. Mayor Moore should consult with mayors from the western part of the county. The majority of them would
Like to have their own police department, but ...more
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Sep 2, 14 7:29 PM
2 members liked this comment
Watch this article is like cheese in a trap for But I'm Blank and HHS They will be here shortly
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Sep 2, 14 8:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Anna Throne-Holst seems to always have trouble with the truth.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Sep 2, 14 9:08 PM
It seems to me that the SHTPD is overextended as it is (one sergeant to cover from Water Mill to Hampton Bays on a Saturday night). How would this help?
By HB90 (164), southampton on Sep 2, 14 9:51 PM
Seems to me that it might have been prudent to know of the on going interviews at village hall. As even today!!! The relinquistment of the village police department to the Town of Southampton Police Department has no economic, or efective prowess. Response times to the village will be deminished.... Community relations will drift away.... The community awareness will dissapear.. Ask a village resident who is in need of help, and when the police show up, they are somewhat relieved because they ...more
By Big Guy (3), Hampton Bays on Sep 2, 14 10:19 PM
I think Jimion makes some solid points and suggestions but things I always noted: WHB is tiny, in the winter and shoulder seasons there is no one to police, there is already a lot of overlap. Specifically on any given day I see in town, WHB police, Suffolk, Southampton and State police. WHB would be much better off financially by eliminating its police force and using rent a cops and crowd control officers in the summer.
By Hambone (514), New York on Sep 2, 14 10:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
This should not even be up for discussion, as there are some larger issues in the village. The police are not a problem. Instead the village should be concerned with attracting more diverse businesses. We are on the border of western Suffolk County, which is a year round community, and are capable of becoming more of a year round attraction. Why create a problem where there isn't one?
By freelance (21), Westhampton Beach on Sep 2, 14 10:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Well, stranger things have happened. No, I take that back, I can't think of one.

The idea that Westhampton Beach should CHOOSE to make itself dependent on a stupendously overpaid police force that is undistinguished but for incompetency (the Sister Jackie Walsh killing), corruption (Kiernan, Sickles, the intra-departmental defamation and discrimination suits), and internecine warfare between its SOA and PBA members, is stupefying.

However, given that the first official act of ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Sep 3, 14 3:53 AM
2 members liked this comment
Westhampton beach is an outlier in the number of officers by population as well as by size. The fact is, we don't need them all, and a consolidation would save taxpayers a bundle as the police force is one of the largest cost centers in the village budget. Its not like there is so much crime that we need them.

I'm told that there is a lot of duplication of services. For instance, whb has officers doing radio dispatch eventhough they can pick up county and town dispatch.

Its only ...more
By winkelby (38), westhampton on Sep 3, 14 4:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
The village should look at implementing more video cameras and automated license plate readers to cut costs. Both have been shown to lower costs and crime rates.
Sep 4, 14 4:35 AM appended by winkelby
If fact, we going down this path. There are cameras at the beach, on the traffic circle and in town. However, if we add a few more to cover all the entry points and at the bridges on dune road, the PD could have a searchable database of everyone who comes/goes. This is incredibly helpful in investigations, and a powerful deterrent to potential criminals (you also put up signs, and publicise their existence). My guess is that we could cut the operating costs of the dept in half with a setup like this because you dont need all those expensive patrol cars, highly paid/compensated officers .... when implemented. There are plenty of other jurisdictions that have gone down this path. I would ask the board to call in ALPRS vendors to make a presentation and at least get an idea on the costs/benefits (those guys have references/case studies in their sales pitches that our village can contact to make a more exact calculation).
By winkelby (38), westhampton on Sep 3, 14 4:35 AM

How much would WHB save?
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Sep 3, 14 3:09 PM
They will save a MINIMAL amount and will receive MINIMAL services. The only person who will capitalize on this would the Town of Southampton Supervisor. The Village of Westhampton Beach will suffer a major down turn. The residents will receive much slower service, it will be much less personal than they receive now and the houses on Dune Road will require their own personal security because being left unattended 9 months out of the year the criminals will go on a robbing spree.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Sep 4, 14 12:32 PM
Why the big headline? The mayor stated that a merger is not being looked into, yet the Press headline makes it seem as fact. Mrs. Moore has been doing a great job in her 8 weeks on the job and deserves some credit for taking her time and researching her options before making key decisions. Did people want her to appoint a new chief without interviewing multiple candidates?
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Sep 3, 14 7:32 AM
heck no, it was way more important to double her salary before working on a search for new police chief.
By bettyboo (38), Westhampton on Sep 3, 14 12:24 PM
You mean bring it back to what previous mayors were making.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Sep 3, 14 1:53 PM
spin it as you will.
By bettyboo (38), Westhampton on Sep 5, 14 11:57 AM
Winkelby.. You must not live in a Village. Big Guy is right It's not about tickets it's about service, those with elderly family members value village services. We are paying for a service so why not get the best service our money can buy. Nobody's tax bill is going down if there is a consolidation. Look at what Sagaponack pays for 1 police car.
By Sagdays (23), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 10:08 AM
Unfortunatley, I can speak to this topic from experience. When my child had an emergency and emergency services responded, it was NOT Southampton Town Police who came to our aide while we live in Southampton Town and the incident was in Southampton Town, it was the Village of Westhampton Beach Police who were there first. The Town Police Officer who I pay for in MY tax dollars did not arrive until we were leaving in the ambulance. While I understand things happen and each municipality comes to ...more
By mc0427 (9), Westhampton Beach on Sep 4, 14 10:39 AM
Why is there still no direction as to where the Police Force is heading? Her salary was restored rather quickly. 1 would think that the Mayor would think that the safety of the people who elected her is far more pressing than restoring her pay. I have said it before, and will continue to say it until I am shown otherwise but it seems that Moore is working for herself and not as promised for the people. With the ever growing business district she promised won't the Police Dept be more needed now ...more
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Sep 4, 14 12:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
Beachbme you sure dont do your friend, relative (son?), co-worker any good by bashing the Mayor all the time and talking like Gonce is the best thing that happened to the Village. Big Wup. She got her pay back to where it was prior to Teller who BTW between him and Dean cost this Village substantially more by hundreds of thousands of dollars and BTW both endorse him. Its wise for the Village to explore all the options. Not rush to a "local" decision all the time to fill a position. It sure has caused ...more
By realistic (472), westhampton on Sep 4, 14 1:40 PM
Realistic while I wish your accusations held merit, but they do not and as always you do not rebut any of my questions nor provide factual responses only accusations or assumptions sometimes lies. I do not say anywhere that the Lieutenant should be handed the position, as I have said many times in the past he should NOT, they should interview but they should start sooner rather than later. I did ask why the Lieutenant who is doing the job has not been appointed as interim chief to help head the ...more
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Sep 5, 14 8:20 AM
There is no mystery as to why the mayor will not be hiring Trevor Gonce as the new police chief. He was a servant of the ancien régime. A similar situation arose in Southampton Town on the retirement of Chief Overton. The NON-Republican majority ignored the presumptive heir, Tenaglia, and brought in an outsider, Wilson. We all know how well that went.

Diluting (at the very least) the authority of the remaining force, whose loyalty is suspect, would assuage the new order's apprehension ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Sep 5, 14 8:45 AM
Highhatsize I have to say, against my will that I agree with you. However I hope that this Mayor is her own person and does not commit such a dis-service to this Village and the tax payers just because his predecessor is Ray Dean. Each are their own person and no one should be judged based on anything other than their skill, merit and ability to perform the job for the betterment of the community and not for the betterment of someones ego.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Sep 10, 14 11:47 AM
Consolidate. This is a huge expense to the taxpayer with very little in return.
By eli4sxp (2), melville on Sep 9, 14 11:12 AM