By Stephen J. Kotz
Southampton Town’s new police chief, Steven Skrynecki, who took office in May after serving several months as an independent consultant to the department, said this week he is settling into his new position and eager to introduce a number of new initiatives he said would lead to “an enhanced community relationship” for the department.
“There’s myriad issues to take a look at, from how you dispatch calls to how you handle arrests,” said Chief Skrynecki, who came to Southampton from Nassau County, where he was the chief of that department. “We are exploring all that, going through it one by one, making major changes in some cases and in other cases making minor adjustments.”
Chief Skrynecki said he had inherited a department of professional and motivated officers from his predecessor, Chief Robert Pearce, but stressed “there is always room for improvement.”
One change the chief is making is to move toward “problem oriented policing,” or POP, in which the department will identify individual problems as they arise — be it a series of car break-ins in Hampton Bays or house burglaries in Noyac — and focus on solving them.
“It involves changing the environment,” he said. “If you see an environment with persistent problems, you put everything on the table to address them. It could involve soliciting other entities, like code enforcement, the fire marshal, looking at traffic control, signage or street lights.”
The approach makes more sense as departments are forced to allocate limited personnel, and has proven to be effective in tamping down crime, he said, citing Nassau County, where crime has declined even though the department has been reduced from 4,000 officers to 2,600 officers since the early 1970s.
In order to make problem oriented policing work, Chief Skrynecki said the department would beef up its efforts to monitor “what is happening criminally, where and by whom” and is working with its information technology department to provide more up-to-date crime reporting. “If there is a spike, then you use your resources to drive it down,” he said.
In a related move, he said the department would keep much closer tabs on reports of crime to be able to tell if it was on the rise or the decline. “We want to know if we are winning or losing,” he said.
While most town residents are likely worried about crimes such as burglary or assault, Chief Skrynecki said “the thing that keeps me up at night” is the fear of terrorism. Accordingly, he said the department had begun to train an anti-terrorism unit, whose officers, wearing body armor and toting semiautomatic rifles, are starting to show up at public events like the Hampton Classic.
Chief Skrynecki said he had not received any reports that would suggest any such attack was imminent, but he stressed the South Fork, where many of the country’s business and entertainment elite have vacation homes, could well be become a target organized by a cell or carried out by an individual.
“The people who are here represent American success, the American way of life, they represent western freedom and western expression.”
The rollout has received positive feedback, he said, while adding that he has also been in touch with local school districts and hopes to put in place tighter security measures to prevent a school shooting.
On the other hand, Chief Skrynecki said he had directed his officers to wear their bulletproof vests under their uniform shirts, a move, he said that would prevent a less threatening image to citizens seeking their help.
Chief Skrynecki also pledged to improve the department’s ties with minorities, saying he wanted his officers to treat “with dignity and respect” everyone within whom it comes in contact.
Noting the tougher stance of the Trump administration on undocumented immigrants, Chief Skrynecki said the department would not be doing the work of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, but would work with ICE if it had an active hold request for someone taken into custody. “We have a policy that is kind of hands-off,” he said, “but if you are arrested for DWI and we find out ICE is interested in you, we will oblige them.”