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Town police protection in village violates court-ordered stipulation, Greenport trustee argues, stirring controversy

Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts at the Synergy Greenport meeting held last month. File photo: Katharine Schroeder

Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts is accusing the Town of Southold of failing to provide adequate police protection in the village.

Roberts is asking the village board to formally notify the town that it is not meeting its obligations under a 20-year-old stipulation that settled a federal lawsuit brought against the town by the village in 1995.

The trustee, who says he has fielded constituent complaints about police protection, points to the ongoing situation with a peeping Tom in the village and an Oct. 18 stabbing, both of which produced no arrests, as evidence Southold’s failure.

“A peeping Tom terrorizing village residents and stabbing in broad daylight outside a supermarket and there have been no arrests in either case,” Roberts said in an interview Friday. “That wouldn’t happen anywhere else in Southold.”

Roberts also claims the town has violated a provision in the stipulation requiring Southold Town Police to dedicate a sector car to the “greater Greenport” area — defined as the geographic boundaries of the Greenport Union Free School District.

He is asking the village board to adopt a resolution at next week’s meeting “disputing” the stipulation — essentially, putting the town on notice that it is violating the terms of the stip and asking the town for a public meeting to discuss the village’s complaints.

In his monthly report to the board, which he made available to the media on Thursday, Roberts wrote that “as a matter of policy, the Southold Town PD has not been directed by the Town Board to provide adequate protection here in The Village as compared with hamlets outside The Village.”

The stipulation in question settled a federal lawsuit brought against the town by former Mayor Dave Kapell and the Village of Greenport in 1995, less than a year after village residents voted to abolish Greenport’s 10-member police force. The November 1994 vote came after a Suffolk grand jury report “described the officers as ill-trained, inept and corrupt,” according to an Oct. 6, 1995 article reporting on the suit in the New York Times.

“The report included testimony that one officer drank heavily and consorted with drug dealers, while another had sex with a girlfriend on the police chief’s desk,” the Times wrote.

But village officials quickly became dissatisfied with the level of police services provided by the town, as residents and business owners complained of loitering and lawlessness on village streets, according to the newspaper. Then-mayor Kapell told the Times he feared for his family’s safety. “The village pays the town $220,000 a year for police service and I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth,” Kapell told the Times.

Under the stipulation settling that suit, if the village board votes to direct the mayor to request a meeting with the Southold Town Board, the two bodies must meet in a public forum to discuss the village’s complaints. If they fail to reach an agreement, the stip requires the issues to be submitted to mediation. The stip does not say that the decision of a mediator would be binding on either party.

Roberts said Friday since the lawsuit was settled by stipulation, if the town fails to fulfill its obligations imposed by the stip, “the village can open up that lawsuit again.” That, he said, is the “nuclear option.”

“I think we should have a real discussion,” he said. “It could be a really productive thing.”

Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard doesn’t agree with Roberts and doesn’t support passing the resolution the trustee is requesting.

Hubbard said he believes the town is meeting its obligations under the stipulation. He disputes Roberts’ assertion that the town is not providing the required patrols.

Roberts said in his memo to the village board that Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley has said “several times publicly that there is one officer assigned to the downtown area and one officer who splits his/her time between Greenport and Orient/East Marion.”

“The 804 sector is Greenport and it has been for 20 years,” Hubbard said Friday morning. “The 806 is a roaming sector. Sometimes [804] has to respond elsewhere, in an emergency for an MVA or something. All sector cars do that,” Hubbard said.

Flatley also disputes the trustee’s assertion about the level of police protection in the village. 

“The supervisor and the board have been very supportive of my requests for manpower and other assets to run the police department,” he said.  “We have always had a designated sector that is always staffed for the Incorporated Village of Greenport, as per the agreement. In addition we have other sectors that overlap Greenport Village which provide extra coverage. Without openly discussing our sector coverage strategies, I can affirm that we have complied with this commitment to Greenport Village, and more.”

“I think the Southold Police Department does a fantastic job,” the mayor said. “There are unsolved cases throughout Southold. There’s cold cases everywhere. I don’t think it’s any worse in Greenport.”

He called the formal demand for a joint meeting “a very drastic move” and said it makes more sense to sit down with the police chief.

Roberts said he believes the chief is earnest but is not being given the resources he needs to do the job — and that’s a matter for the town board to address.

 

“It’s just a meeting, a joint meeting with the town board,” Roberts said. “Why would anyone not want to do that — unless you have something to hide? No village official should try to protect a town elected official,” Roberts said. “I don’t think the mayor is trying to protect them. I hope not,” he said.

“The entire town board is Republican,” Roberts added. “I think it’s fairly well known I am a Democrat. If that’s coming into play that would be too bad.”

 

The mayor said the board will take the matter up at its work session on Thursday. “If the board wants to vote on it, we’ll vote on it. If a majority votes to ask for a meeting, we’ll ask for a meeting,” he said.

Trustee Julia Robins said Friday she had not yet seen Roberts’ report and would not comment on prior to the work session discussion. Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said today she had reviewed Roberts’ memo and is interested in reading reports issued by the police chief to the supervisor and Southold Town Board.

“Observations are only one part of information gathering,” Phillips said. “In fairness to all sides there is a need to obtain actual data in having an informed reaction.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town board and the chief “would be happy to discuss this or any issue of mutual concern.”

Russell questioned Roberts’ “sincerity” in the matter because the trustee brought his concerns to the media ahead of any discussion, which Russell called “disrespectful to the village board, the town board and the police chief.”

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect comments by the Southold Town police chief, who could not be reached for comment prior to initial publication.

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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.