In a socially-distanced swearing-in ceremony held on December 1 at Southampton Town Police headquarters in Hampton Bays, Sherekhan Parker became the first African American and member of the Shinnecock Nation to ascend to a supervisory rank in the department.
Several other officers were promoted at the ceremony as well.
On November 24, the Town Board voted to promote him to sergeant, at an annual salary of $146,612.62. Forty-four years old, he’s been with the department for 18 years.
“Sherekhan has served with distinction and is a member of the prestigious Emergency Service Unit. This is the unit cops call when they need help,” Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said during the ceremony. Of all eligible candidates, he scored the highest on the sergeant’s exam. Having completed training in the detective division, he excelled in investigative training.
The chief noted that Sgt. Parker identifies as both a member of the Shinnecock Nation and African American, and is the first person of color to hold the rank of sergeant in the department’s history.
“Honestly, I’ve never thought of my professional achievement in that context. For the last 18 years of my life, I’ve been committed to service within the Town of Southampton, and I’ve always sought to give the entire community my best,” Sgt. Parker shared in a statement he prepared once questions about the distinction arose. “I took a promotional exam, earned a competitive score and was offered a supervisory position based upon the quality of my work and merit. However, now that the event has come to pass, I realize how the moment is being celebrated by the communities that I represent. Therefore, I hope that what I have accomplished thus far will inspire young men and women within those communities to always strive for excellence and perhaps pursue a career in service as well.”
Born in Southampton, Sgt. Parker grew up on the Shinnecock Nation territory. When he was in high school, representatives from the Suffolk County Police Department visited his U.S. history and government classes to describe what it takes to be a police officer. “My interest was piqued,” the sergeant recalled. He took note of how satisfied the officers were with the work they did.
His father, Charles B. Parker, had been a part time police officer with the Southampton Town Police Department during the 1960s — they were called “specials” back then. When young Sherekhan voiced his interest in a career in law enforcement, his father suggested trying out for a job as a traffic control officer. “I did that for two summers,” Sgt. Parker said. Once he joined the force full time, he began to experience for himself that sense of satisfaction he’d admired in the county cops years earlier.
A notable moment in his career so far occurred several years ago when he came upon a man who seemed homeless. Rather than just move him along, the sergeant bought him dinner and embarked on an investigation, eventually finding a missing persons link from years prior. Following that path, he was able to track down a relative and reunite the man with his family in Connecticut.
“Sherekhan is known for his dedication to his work, eager to take on responsibility and is exceptionally thorough in everything he does. He is also known for his compassion and caring nature,” the chief said at the ceremony last week.
The event featured a handful of other promotions and appointments.
Detective Lieutenant James Kiernan was promoted to captain —second in command of the department, with an annual salary of $178,618.71. Captain Kiernan, as he’ll now be addressed, was at the center of a firestorm of inner sanctum controversy about six years ago. He sued his former boss, then-Police Chief William Wilson and the department alleging, that Mr. Wilson tried to get him to use his connections as a Republican committeeman to get him appointed to the top spot, and to ensure the Town Board supported his policies. Captain Kiernan and the board didn’t acquiesce, and Chief Wilson sought Mr. Kiernan’s demotion, brought up dozens of disciplinary charges, and suspended him for months.
The 2014 lawsuit alleged the charges were concocted, and while never made public, were said to relate to Captain Kiernan’s oversight of a disgraced division, the Street Crime Unit, which became embroiled in scandal and subsequently disbanded. Once Chief Wilson’s brief tenure ended, his successor, Robert Pierce, called for an investigation into the “fraudulent” charges against Captain Kiernan. The town settled the case for $185,000, as well as a promotion to detective lieutenant in 2018.
Now 54 years old, the captain was a New York State Court Officer before joining the Town Police in 1997.
“Jim has been a distinguished member of the department for 23 years,” Chief Skrynecki said during the ceremony. “During his robust career, Jim has been the recipient of numerous awards and citations including Officer of the Year in 2002 … Of all our eligible candidates, Jim finished number one on the Civil Service captain’s exam scoring an impressive raw score of 96.”
As captain, Mr. Kiernan will serve as second in command, overseeing all operational aspects of the department. “Jim will play an instrumental role as we continue to lead and progress the department to be the best it can be; carrying forward the tradition of community-based policing with pride, honor, and integrity,” the chief said, inviting the captain up to the podium to receive his shield.
Also this month, Sergeant Howard Kalb moved up to the rank of lieutenant with an annual base pay of $161,419.27. He has been with the department since October 2002, and was appointed on the same day as Sgt. Parker. He’s served as a police officer and uniform sergeant. Most recently he toiled as the desk sergeant during the night shift. “This is a critical position in that he is frequently the highest-ranking officer of the department on duty,” the chief explained.
“This position requires a vast knowledge of the law, police policies and procedures and excellent decision making. Howard Kalb possesses all of these qualities, and when he is on the desk, I sleep well.”
Lt. Kalb scored number one on the lieutenant’s test. He will serve as deputy commander of the patrol division and will become part of the command staff, assisting in policy making.
Shannon Merker took the oath of office at age 24, having been with the department since the age of 19, when she was hired as a Traffic Control Officer in 2015. She subsequently served as a seasonal police officer and worked as a New York State Trooper before returning to the Town Police. As a young girl attending school in Flanders, she designed a flag for her community that is still in use today, the chief said. She’ll start the full time position of police officer at $61,298.22.
So, too, will Madeline Sgange, sworn in on December 1. Also 24, she was hired as a seasonal police officer in May 2019.
Boasting 112 officers, the Southampton Police Department has grown substantially over the years since the first five “marshals” were hired by the newly-settled township in 1641.
The department as it exists today was formed in 1951 and is one of the largest town police departments in New York State.