Debate New Sagg P.D.

Mayor wants more coverage for village’s $2.3 million
Residents of Sagaponack, including Gerard Kleinbaum, standing, gathered Saturday to ask questions about the village board’s idea to create its own police department. Carrie Ann Salvi

    About 100 Sagaponack residents appeared at the Village Hall on Saturday at an informational meeting on whether the village should establish its own police force, and the result was more questions than answers.

    There were “three camps” of opinions at the meeting, Mayor Donald Louchheim said during a follow-up discussion at a village board work session on Monday. Some want no more police presence and are worried about getting tickets. Another group, he said, does not want a village police department, but does not seem to object to more police presence. Then “there are those who would like to create a department, some for economic reasons and some for qualitative policing tailored to the area and under local control,” the mayor said.

    He proposed Monday that the village hire the retired Southampton Town police chief William Wilson to consult with the board at a monthly rate of $2,000. He would talk with neighboring police departments about what they would charge for ancillary, dispatch, jail, and investigative services, and also help the village board establish a timeline for implementing whatever plan they choose to embark on.

    The mayor has already said that Mr. Wilson is a candidate for the Sagaponack police chief’s position if a department is formed.

     “We pay the Town [of Southampton] $2.3 million a year; we do not get any service approximating that,” the mayor said Monday. He has asked the town for more policing for Sagaponack’s money, but has not heard anything, he said. He requested a single officer be assigned to Sagaponack all day, year round, rather than having no dedicated officers in the wintertime. “We either say grin and bear it or we at least proceed along the road toward creating our own department.”

    Mayor Louchheim said he expects that there is no political will in Southampton Town to satisfy Sagaponack’s requests. “The people who live west of the canal are the registered voters. We have 300 registered voters in Sagaponack in a town of 50,000. We are insignificant,” he said Monday. “The supervisor is running for re-election. She does not want to hear that she catered to the rich people instead of Flanders and Hampton Bays. For her, it’s a question of politics,” he said.

    On Saturday, the mayor laid out a number of policing options for the village, including a full-fledged police department and one with only part-time officers. He explained that the village would be part of a mutual aid agreement with other municipalities for additional manpower in the event of emergencies.

    “If we had our own department and got out from under Southampton police district, you the residents would save,” the mayor said Saturday.

    “Why can’t we get three officers for our 2.3 million?” asked Viola White of Town Line Road, who said she felt a need for more police in the village in the wintertime.

    William Barbour, a board member and former police officer himself, agreed. The village, he said, is paying for officers who may be as far away as Shinnecock Hills when they are needed. “When someone calls in sick, we’re the first sector that gets cut,” he said. “We need to have more officers assigned.”

    Mayor Louchheim added that it would also be nice to have an emergency medical technician nearby at all times, instead of depending on the Bridgehampton Fire Department. “We should have someone patrolling us on a regular basis,” he said, “not just responding to calls.”

    Robert Kall, a resident who is also a retired commanding police officer, warned of what may lie between the lines in the police department’s budget. “If you had five officers and one of them was out injured for six months, then what?” He also asked for details, such as “How many cars would you have?”

    “Where will these police officers come from and where would they be trained?” Mr. Kall asked three times, appearing increasingly angry when he did not get an answer. He also raised the specter of police-related lawsuits and the potential cost to taxpayers.

    And Gerald Kleinbaum of Sagg Main Street broached the issue of liability in the event of accidents.

    “This is a concern of ours,” Mayor Louchheim said. Responding to a resident who said he would like a village police department but doesn’t want to pay for it, the mayor said he felt similarly.

    “Is this really a solution or a problem?” asked Lynn Jeffrey, to much applause. “We haven’t demonstrated why we need more policing. What are they going to do here . . . besides give tickets to all of us?”

    “There should be one around when you need them,” Mr. Barbour, the village board member, said.

    Barbara Albright said she is in favor of a greater police presence to prevent crime and accidents, but asked who would maintain the cars and the service garage, where the station would be, and what the village would do for a jail.

    Harvey Swanking said he already feels harassed by the police officers and like he is being followed around Sagaponack to see if he will stop for a full three seconds at a stop sign when he is returning home for dinner.

    “The tentative budget is very vague,” said Jack French, another former police officer. He said the village would need more than one police car, for example, and called for “an itemized budget.”

    “I don’t want 51 percent support,” Mayor Louchheim said Saturday. “I don’t want it to be an issue that splits the village. . . . We will listen to the people.” He asked people at the meeting on Saturday to share their clear sentiments via letter or e-mail. A letter from the mayor listing his argument for a department and details about anticipated costs is posted on the village’s Web site, sagaponackvillage.org.

    While the mayor was anxious for approval Monday to hire Mr. Wilson, Lee Foster, a village board member who is the deputy mayor, called for caution. “I would definitely prefer to wait until next week,” Ms. Foster said Monday. And though Mr. Barbour said he could support the hiring of Mr. Wilson, Ms. Foster said, “This is not an issue that I would like to advance today.”

    Mayor Louchheim is expected to ask for a vote from the board next week. “Next week will be D-day.”

    If the board eventually decides that creating a police department is in the village’s best interest, it would develop a specific budget for the department and bring that to a public hearing, the mayor said.