When Charles Reichert read a Suffolk Times story about the Southold Town Police Department’s ongoing radio issues, he went to Police Chief Martin Flatley to find out how he could help.
Mr. Reichert, owner of IGA supermarkets in Greenport and Southold, said in an interview Tuesday he believes it’s very important for police radio systems to work properly.
“It’s not only helping the police,” he explained, “it’s helping the fire departments. It’s helping the [emergency services]. It’s helping the citizens.”
Soon after meeting with the chief, the 81-year-old business owner donated $340,000 to the town from his family’s charitable foundation. That’s enough to completely cover the cost of the radio system repairs.
“You have to give back, wherever you are,” Mr. Reichert said.
“He’s an incredible man,” Chief Flatley said in an interview, calling the gift “extremely generous.”
Town Supervisor Scott Russell agreed.
“He’s been very good to us,” Mr. Russell said.
For years, police have struggled with an outdated communications system that leaves dead zones around town where officers’ handheld radios don’t work.
Those problems came to a head earlier this summer, when a defendant in Southold Justice Court fought with police and two court officers.
An officer radioed for backup, but the call never reached police headquarters because of a dead zone. The officer suffered a minor injury in the scuffle.
The Town Board promised to find funding for upgrades and the town worked with Relay Communications Center in Riverhead to survey its radio system to figure out what upgrades would be needed.
“We have a game plan now and we have a direction to go in,” Chief Flatley told the Town Board at Tuesday’s meeting.
The survey found that communication could be improved by adding new antennas to existing police radio towers in Jamesport, Peconic, Greenport and Orient, the chief added.
Antennas could also be installed on radio towers used by the Mattituck and Cutchogue fire departments. No new towers would need to be built, according to the survey.
The fixes, which Chief Flatley said would cost at least $25,000 per site, could be completed in just a few days and work could begin as early as October.
Councilman James Dinizio said the antennas would “vastly improve” the situation in Greenport, where police officers’ radios fail to work depending on which side of the street they’re standing on.
However, these changes wouldn’t solve all the communications problems.
According to the study, deficiencies still exist along the beaches, especially on Long Island Sound. Chief Flatley said the town will finish these upgrades and then “see what kind of improvement it makes.”
“Officers are well aware of the [dead] spots they have on the Sound because of the bluffs,” he said.
Chief Flatley added that while the department has some money from a Suffolk County 911 service fee to pay for the project, the Reichert family’s donation will now alleviate any funding concerns.
This isn’t the first time the Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation has helped out locally. In August, the foundation donated $25,000 for improvements at Mattituck High School’s baseball field. The Reicherts also purchased a generator for Southold Town after Hurricane Sandy.
“The town has never come to us and asked for anything,” said Mr. Reichert, a Northport resident. “We went and donated to them.”
The Reicherts have also helped with improvements at Mitchell Park in Greenport Village and are working to restore the American Legion Hall in Greenport, he added.
Mr. Reichert said he decided to donate to the police department simply because he could, and railed against rich business owners and wealthy residents who buy mansions and luxury cars instead of helping their neighbors.
“These billionaires don’t give a thing back,” he said. “I don’t understand this. I really don’t … Maybe you have to be 81 years old to understand this stuff, but we’re all in this world together.”
Photo: Charles Reichert.