By Stephen J. Kotz
After members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee raised a ruckus last month over the lack of cops on the beat in the hamlet, the Southampton Town Police Department made its presence felt in a big way last weekend with stepped up traffic enforcement on Main Street, issuing 35 tickets — most for cellphone violations — and even arresting one driver on felony drug charges.
Captain Lawrence Schurek said four members of the department’s Community Response Unit were stationed in Bridgehampton to be on the lookout for drivers failing to yield to pedestrians and using their cellphones. A total of 26 drivers were ticketed for that offense, including Christopher Jennings Jr., a 36-year-old Northport man who police said was pulled over for texting and discovered to have a large amount of marijuana and related drugs in his possession.
Captain Schurek, who was accompanied by Sergeant Todd Bennett, said while one motorist was ticketed for failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, two pedestrians were ticketed for jaywalking. He said he had urged his officers to issue warnings first for that offense, but said in those two instances, those ticketed probably “got a little too confrontational.”
Since the committee took its complaints about the lack of police to the town, Pamela Harwood, the CAC’s chairwoman, said there had definitely been an uptick in their presence. While committee members said they were happy with that development, they feared it would be temporary. Captain Schurek said they should not expect beefed up enforcement every week, but he said the department was committed to responding to the community’s complaints. “It’s going to continue,” he said. “It’s not going to be every day, but we are going to be proactive with this.”
“This should be part of ongoing business,” responded committee member Nancy Walter-Yvertes. “We shouldn’t have to ask for it.”
That led to a wide-ranging discussion about policing, with some members, such as Peter Wilson, saying more patrols were needed on back roads to catch speeders. Kathy Conway said a good spot for such enforcement is Ocean Road, where there is a two-mile stretch south of Bridge Lane to the ocean without any stop signs. Ms. Harwood said the Bridgehampton train station, where she said drivers often make an illegal left turn leaving the parking lot also needed attention.
Captain Schurek told the committee there are 94 officers on the town police force, who are required to cover a 145-square-mile territory. Sgt. Bennett noted that only a single officer is on patrol during each shift in the Bridgehampton sector, which extends from the Princess Diner in Water Mill all the way to the Sagaponack Village border and north toward Sag Harbor.
“The town board is not giving you the resources to do your damned job,” responded Mr. Wilson, who said he did not fault police, but politicians. “We don’t’ need excuses, we’ve been hearing about it since 2004. We have a list of issues a mile long from 2004, and things are 10 times worse now.”
Ms. Walter-Yvertes said it was her understanding Bridgehampton taxpayers contribute approximately $3.9 million to the $22 million town police budget, and she and other members said the hamlet was getting shortchanged as compared to, say, Sagaponack, which worked out a deal for better police coverage after incorporating as a village.
Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone, who attended the meeting on Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s behalf, told the committee asking for a dollar-for-dollar return in police service for their taxes would not be practical, given that other communities in town such as Riverside and Flanders are less affluent and suffer from higher crime rates. Nonetheless, he agreed that committee members should see more of their tax dollars returned to the community.
Pedestrian Cross Walks
Mr. Zappone told the committee the town board on Tuesday was expected to pass a resolution authorizing a request for proposals on an engineering study that would be a precursor to the hamlet receiving $700,000 in state funding to improve pedestrian safety by adding more lighted crosswalks along Main Street.
Mr. Zappone told the committee the town will request that engineering firms respond to the RFP by October 5 to keep the issue moving forward.
He added that the town has since learned that not only will it have to pay for the project up front and wait for the state to reimburse it, but it must also contribute 25 percent of the total cost.
The committee has long sought safer crosswalks, and the issue took on new urgency last year when the cookbook author Anna Pump was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing the street near the Bridgehampton Post Office.