The working class hamlet of Flanders was one of incoming Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki’s first stops as he began meeting with constituents in late March.
Chief Skrynecki, whom Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman introduced as “an expert in street crime” at a March 29 special meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, shared his thoughts on policing with residents who have long been concerned about drug use, open air prostitution, break-ins and safety in their community.
Chief Skrynecki, who retired as Nassau County Police Chief as he took the job in Southampton, brings 42 years of law enforcement experience to the post.
While working as a consultant before coming on full-time as chief May 1, he said the Southampton Town Police Department shows “fundamentally no need to change,” but could take advantage of new surveillance tools to help reduce costs.
He also advocated the use of ‘predictive policing,’ analytical techniques to identify potential criminal activity, and showed slides of several locations throughout the community where the department is focusing on drug sales and quality of life issues.
“The idea of having a cop on every corner…that’s impractical, and quite frankly, it was wasteful,” said Chief Skrynecki. “What I really need to do is identify the ten percent of the people who are the problem, who they are and where they tend to be when they create problem, and put cops there.”
He said he plans to foster open communication between the department and community members, regardless of their age, sex, ethnicity or citizenship.
“It’s incredibly important to us, and to the community, that all people…are protected, that everybody has a good feeling that the police department is working to protect them, and we will protect you regardless of your [immigration] status,” he said. “We also want to make sure that individual feels comfortable to come forward if they are the victim of a crime and report that crime.”
“Think about how horrible that would be if you were a female…and you were a victim of a domestic assault or worse, a rape, and you were afraid to go to the police department because you were undocumented and you were afraid the police department was going to check your status,” he said. “We do not want to go down that road. We want people to feel comfortable about being able to come to us.”
Community members, including FRNCA’s president Ron Fisher, were not shy about airing their concerns at the meeting, sharing personal experiences with opioid addiction, now reaching epidemic levels both in Suffolk County and across the United States.
Chief Skrynecki, who sat on the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs committee at the International Association of Chiefs of Police for five years, said he has a four-pronged plan to fight this “very big issue,” using awareness, education, enforcement and a connection to treatment.
He said a drug dealer had been arrested for selling opioid pills at the Riverside McDonald’s parking lot earlier that day, and that detectives are now being deployed on medical calls that may have not previously triggered police response, in order to use opioid antidote NARCAN to police advantage with family members who may otherwise be enabling drug use.
“At that moment when that kid overdoses and is rushing to the hospital by some fire department, that parent…at that moment—And only in that moment—is likely to tell that detective what’s going on,” he said.
“Detectives are going to go to the hospital, they’re going to go to the home and they’re going to say, ‘I’m Detective So-And-So; You almost lost your [son or daughter], Would you give us the information that you have?,” he said. “If you have license to their cell phone…Would you allow us to look at the cell phone to see what was coming in on that cell phone so we could get a lead on that?”
This struck a chord with FRNCA president Ron Fisher, who stood up to address the crowd.
“Unfortunately, my cousin overdosed on March 4,” he said. “The detectives came to the house as the ambulance was there and that’s when my aunt was motivated to talk to them…The family suffered with this for six years—but when her son was dying and we were at the hospital, she was motivated to share all this information with the police.”
Mr. Fisher expressed gratitude to SHPD, who began the practice one week before his cousin’s death.
“Now the whole family is committed to making sure no other family goes through this because it’s really awful,” he said.
Mr. Skrynecki said he’s beginning a number of police/community partnership initiatives, including digital methods for corresponding with the police department and sending officers to the monthly FRNCA meetings to update the community about on-going effort.
The department is also rebooting a re-branded D.A.R.E program called “Too Cool For Drugs,” which will be introduced to students in upper elementary grades.