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Following criticism over faulty radio in officer assault incident, town signs contract for system assessment

Southold's police and public safety communications system, in need of an upgrade and overhaul, falters in "dead zones" scattered throughout town.Stock photo: Fotolia

Southold Town now has signed a contract with a radio communications specialist to assess its police radio transmission system, Supervisor Scott Russell said today.

Southold police officers and leaders of the Southold PBA attended Tuesday’s town board meeting to demand the town expedite action to address the system’s deficiencies, after an officer struggling with a criminal defendant in the town hall courtroom Monday reportedly could not call for backup — two attempts to radio for help failed, PBA president Police Officer Richard Buonaiuto said. The officer, a six-year veteran, was injured in the struggle and required hospital treatment.

The police union questions the town’s decision to move ahead with replacing dispatch equipment and furniture at police headquarters before addressing the failing transmission system, “which threatens the safety of my members and of the public,” he told the board from the podium.

The supervisor said in an interview last month and from the dais Tuesday evening that the holdup in getting the assessment done — the first step to fixing problems or overhauling the system — was not because the town was dragging its feet. Russell said there was a problem with the contract terms and as soon as the consultant got a signed contract back to the town, he’d sign it; the board had already authorized it, he said.

The consultant selected by the board, Dennis Kenter, said in an interview Tuesday night he’d first sent the town a contract proposal in April but did not get a contract from the town attorney until July 28. The document contained provisions expanding the contract’s scope of work without his agreement and without compensation. Kenter said he’d emailed the town attorney and town board that day, but as of Tuesday night, had not heard back.

Russell responded that he’d look into the matter first thing the next morning.

Kenter said today he received a corrected contract from the town yesterday.

“It’s all signed and I will start work on Monday,” Kenter said in an interview. The contract calls for him to fully assess the radio transmission system, pinpoint “dead zones,” determine why the communication failures exist and make recommendations to the police chief and town board for the best way to correct them.

Kenter said that beyond the critical failures that require immediate attention, the outdated system relies on old copper telephone lines and is becoming degraded for lack of maintenance and upgrading by Verizon and should be replaced with a modern transmission system. He will make recommendations to the board about alternatives, he said.

The complete assessment will take about 60 days, Kenter said. “However, what I would like to do is meet after each site inspection and provide a report so that everything is not waiting the full 60 days,” he said.

Under the contract terms, Kenter will be paid $125 per hour for a maximum of 100 hours.

“I was happy the supervisor called me in the morning to let me know the contract was signed and they’re moving forward with it,” Buonaiuto, the town police union president said in an interview today.

“We look forward to working with Dennis and to implement a new system as soon as possible,” Russell said today.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.