Battle Looms on Police

Sag Harbor Village Board ready to outsource
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano was surprised to learn about a proposal to offer an early retirement package to replace six of his officers with Suffolk Sheriff’s Office personnel. Carrie Ann Salvi

    In a closed-door session on Sept. 23, the Sag Harbor Village Board agreed to seek partial police patrols from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and to offer early retirement to eligible village police officers. The vote on an early retirement incentive was unanimous, but outsourcing police services was approved 3-to-1. Kevin Duchemin, an East Hampton Village Police sergeant who is the newest board member, cast the negative vote.
    Concerned about the future of the department, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano said on Tuesday that he had “no clue” how replacing the department’s 12 full-time officers with others from the Sheriff’s Office would work or “why that would be done.” He also said he was surprised that he has not been told the details of the early retirement offer. Village residents don’t know either, because the  board has been discussing, voting, and drafting legal documents in executive session.
    “The mayor has gotten some numbers for services from the county sheriff and East Hampton Town. The board has decided to move forward on this by having the village labor lawyer and myself research a retirement incentive . . . and an inter-municipal agreement for supplemental police services. No final decisions were made,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the village attorney who was at the Sept. 23 meeting, said. Via e-mail yesterday, Mr. Thiele said, “I do not know what public input the board will seek on this. It’s up to the board.”
    Village police have been working without a contract for over a year after months of negotiation, with the standoff having gone to arbitration.
     “It’s ridiculous” that the board has not asked for his opinion, Chief Fabiano said. He was told months ago, he said, that the only reason for the possible abolition or reduction of the police force was the increasing cost of retirement and medical expenses.
    A Sag Harbor native with 35 years on the job, one thing Chief Fabiano said he is sure of is that “they are not going to get the level of service” and that he will be “extremely concerned about the welfare of the village.” That the change apparently is based on costs, the chief asked, “Have complaints been filed? Are people’s taxes too high?”    
    “People should be involved in the process,” he said. “They might have moved here because it is a “nice, safe place to live.”
    According to Legislator Jay Schneiderman, the County Legislature would have to approve any agreement reached.
“It will be quite a debate,” he said yesterday. “It will not go flying through, if it goes through at all.”
      The village police log during a typical off-season week includes several pages of calls that officers have responded to, including those related to motor vehicles — accidents, speeding, unlicensed operators, intoxicated persons found driving — as well as fire alarms, harassment charges, cellphone violations, elderly falls, miscellaneous injuries and illnesses, domestic issues, streetlight outages, and loud music complaints.
    Other calls requiring police presence in a recent week included a student’s attempted suicide and another’s hospitalization for difficulty breathing, along with civil disputes, assistance with a locked bicycle, fear of identity theft due to a frozen computer, a homecoming parade detail, and a loose dog.
    An informal sampling on Tuesday of local business owners and residents found that they were wary of the change.
    Mike Reilly, a manager at the Corner Bar, said, “Let the people decide . . . the public pays the taxes that pay the salaries. I don’t know anyone who minds paying taxes for a good police force.” He added, “We just paid for the new headquarters. It doesn’t make sense.”  And he expressed fear of what might happen in a disaster. “Lives depend on these people,” he said.
    Erling Hope, a resident who was seen speaking with a village police officer on Main Street on Tuesday, said he didn’t think using sheriff personnel was a good idea. Those who patrol the village should be “in touch with the community,” he said. The officer he was speaking with, Hugh Caulfield, a Sag Harbor resident who was formerly a New York City police officer, praised the force, saying they are “dedicated people who give a lot.”
    “I’m against it,” said Peter D’Angelo, owner of the Emporium True Value hardware store, while Rick Kresberg, an owner of Provisions Natural Market, said he is “in favor of having our own Police Department. They know our community better.”
    At the Wharf Shop, a word of caution came from Nada Barry, a longtime resident. “I don’t know all of the facts and figures to form an opinion,” she said, but then added that she felt comfortable with the police, having known many of the officers since they were children. Although North Haven Village has contracted with the Southampton Town force for police services, she said the Sag Harbor department responds to calls first.
    As for the public’s involvement, Chief Fabiano said “a chicken coop gets more attention than the Police Department.” Mayor Brian Gilbride did not return phone calls.