Monday morning was a typical one near the Riverside traffic circle. A wild-haired man was pacing near the bus stop on Flanders Road yelling at cars passing by. The vacant lot behind him that used to be a Getty station was barren and garbage-strewn. The old Riverboat Diner was still boarded up. And up by the Riverside State Trooper barracks, a tightly huddled group of politicians and community activists gathered just steps from Route 104, where, if the wind blew just right, you’d catch sweet smell of stale spilled beer.
It’s from this State Trooper barracks, built on land leased to the state in 1998 by Southampton Town, that state troopers are dispatched to serve all five of the East End towns. They are also the only East End law enforcement agency that serves the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton.
Earlier this year, the state troopers announced they would be moving their dispatching office for the East End to Farmingdale, they would only staff the Riverside barracks on a part-time basis, and the doors to the building would be locked.
Not long after the announcement, the Riverside and Flanders area began facing an unprecedented crime wave, with hundreds of car break-ins, several home invasions and a murder within several weeks of one another.
State and local lawmakers pledged to do something to fix the problem. While State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle plan to include funding in the state’s 2016-17 budget to train new state police officers to work in Riverside, both lawmakers said at Monday’s press conference in front of the barracks that only Governor Andrew Cuomo can make the decision to staff the Riverside barracks and to hold a state police academy to train new recruits.
Mr. LaValle told the crowd of gathered community members that he hoped they’d locked their car doors when they walked over to the press conference, and many nodded their heads.
“There could be a break-in in a car while we’re having this little event,” he said. “This is the worst time that we could walk away from having adequate enforcement.”
“We could put the money in, but the governor doesn’t have to spend it,” he added. “The Shinnecock Nation is affected by this as well as every person on the East End.”
Mr. Thiele pointed out that police on the East End are facing more crime and drug problems than they had in the past, and local police departments are also facing personnel cutbacks.
“The solution here, as is the case with anything in government, is money. We need at least an additional state police academy class,” he said. The governor has to put the money in and agree to spend it.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin also weighed in in support of the funding.
“This is government functioning 101, ensuring that this building in front of you is fully staffed, not being redirected to Farmingdale,” he said.
Southampton Town Supervisor-Elect Jay Schneiderman said he believes the crowd that gathered on a weekday morning speaks volumes about how important this matter is to the community, which has also rallied in recent weeks for more Southampton Town police officers on the street.
“There are neighborhoods here where kids are afraid to go outside,” he said. “We need more resources. We know we can get something done when we speak with one voice. Tell the governor to use the money to send a signal to Riverside that we’re working to reduce crime and make this a more livable area.”
Shinnecock Nation Tribal Trustee Nicole Banks and Tribal Council Chairman Daniel Collins pointed out that they have an established relationships with the State Troopers who work in Riverside.
“It is important that we keep them close to us. We have homebound elders who depend on their services,” said Ms. Banks.
“We’ve enjoyed many years of having a good relationship with the state police,” said Mr. Collins. “We’re your neighbors and we’re here to stand with you.”
Charlie McArdle of the Eastern Long Island Police Conference said that, when Southampton Town leased the land where the state built the barracks for $1 a year back in 1998, the state had promised to maintain or increase the staffing there. They had formerly been housed in a much smaller building on Flanders Road near Sears Bellows Park.
“They’re not keeping their obligation,” he said. “When the governor passes through here for social functions out east, his security detail would be more people than are staffed here.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter agreed.
“I don’t know if the governor knows where Riverhead, Riverside, Northampton and Flanders is, but he knows where East Hampton is. That’s just wrong,” he said. “The very first thing I did in Riverhead was to put more police out there. You bring back your community with the police department.”