The Sag Harbor Village Police Department should have three additional officers, bringing the force to a total of 15 members, including Chief Austin J. McGuire.
That was the conclusion of a recent staffing analysis conducted by Robert Wasserman of Jensen Hughes, a Chicago police and security staffing consulting firm hired to review the village department’s personnel needs.
Mayor Jim Larocca said it was too early to decide whether the Village Board would agree to hire three officers, saying that the board would take up the matter, along with staffing needs in other departments, after the first of the year.
“This is just another matter that is part of the budget process,” he said, adding that board members had not even discussed the report yet.
Trustee Tom Gardella, who serves as the liaison to the department, echoed the mayor’s comment. “We want to have a police department that is both efficient and functions at the top of its abilities,” he said, “and when we sit down to talk about the budget, we’ll talk about these things.”
This week, the chief said if the Village Board were to follow Wasserman’s suggestions, he would hire three new officers and promote one of the current eight officers to sergeant, giving the department 10 officers, three sergeants, one lieutenant and a chief.
The current starting pay is $58,440, plus benefits, he said. The village currently budgets $2.46 million for the entire police department.
Having the extra officers would allow the department to field five squads of two officers each, which would allow it to effectively have two officers on duty around the clock, seven days a week, and have sergeants available in a supervisory capacity for at least part of all three daily shifts.
The department would still have to rely on part-time officers to cover shifts when permanent officers are on vacation, out sick, or on disability, the chief said.
Although Wasserman said the department could possibly make up its staffing shortage by hiring additional part-timers, McGuire said at present that is impractical. “We’ve had upward of five, six, even seven part-time officers,” he said. “But since COVID, three of those officers have found full-time jobs in other states.”
Even if the Village Board were to sign off on the new hires, finding recruits could be difficult, McGuire said. Although Suffolk County has recently reopened the police academies — there is one for part-time officers and a separate one for full-time officers — the county itself plans to hire 500 new officers, he said.
Suffolk County only gives the police exam once every four years, and if the village wants to hire someone with a given score, it is required to canvas as many as 3,500 candidates to find matches, something McGuire said simply required too much time.
As an alternative, the department can hire a village resident who has completed the police academy. That gets tricky in a place like Sag Harbor, where affordable apartments are virtually nonexistent. That means the department has to find a place for a new officer to live in the village for the 90-day required period. After that period, the officer can move out of the village.
McGuire acknowledged that Sag Harbor, which covers 2.3 miles and had an estimated population of 2,283 people in 2019, is hardly a hotbed of crime, with few arrests and more calls to investigate reports of raccoons rummaging in garbage cans than actual masked bandits trying to jimmy door locks.
“Most of our arrests are for traffic-related infractions,” he said. “We have more complaints about vehicles and traffic than we can handle, and let’s not forget we have 1,400 people in the school district.”
Officers also respond to ambulance and fire calls and routinely check on dropped 911 calls to make sure there is not a real emergency. In addition, they are asked to provide security for any number of public events, from fund-raising runs to the annual Halloween ragamuffin parade.
Earlier this year, the village purchased traffic counting devices, which showed a surprisingly high number of vehicles coming through the village on a typical summer week. “We have well over 100,000 cars coming through the village a week — documented,” McGuire said. “And not everybody is law-abiding.”
Although the department always has at least two officers available, sometimes that means either McGuire himself or Lieutenant Robert Drake are pressed into service to answer calls. Drake also serves as the department’s de facto detective, while McGuire serves as liaison to the school district. The two are also required to do most of the department’s administrative duties.
Compared to neighboring village departments, Sag Harbor is small. East Hampton Village, which covers 4.9 square miles and has a population of 1,134, has 24 officers, and Southampton Village, which covers 7.2 miles, has 32 officers. Westhampton Beach, which is similar in size to Sag Harbor at 3 square miles, but has a smaller population of 1,794, has 14 officers, the same number as Quogue, which covers 5 square miles and has 1,014 residents.