Riverhead police doubles downtown patrols

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A pedestrian with a bicycle walks west on East Main Street Friday.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A pedestrian with a bicycle walks west on East Main Street Friday.

In the wake of an armed robbery and a fatal hit-and-run accident in downtown Riverhead, Supervisor Sean Walter announced Friday that the police department has doubled its presence downtown.

Mr. Walter said he will also propose the town pull more than $100,000 from reserve funds to pay for an additional “fairly substantial investment” in the downtown police force.

“We’re not going to lose,” Mr. Walter said of downtown revitalization efforts. “I refuse to lose this battle.”

He also said in a press statement that although isolated incidents still occur downtown and elsewhere, the town is safer than in years past.

“I want every resident and visitor to Riverhead to know that our downtown is statistically safer than many of our neighboring downtown districts,” Mr. Walter said. “I recognize that if you are a victim of crime, dry numbers are of little comfort, but I am happy to say that downtown we are managing to hold back the tide.”

He stressed that though unfortunate, crime and accidents like the fatal hit-and-run have an “arbitrary nature” that give a false impression of downtown Riverhead.

“Our police cruisers roll from downtown, our station house is downtown, our court is downtown, the day-to-day comings and goings of police vehicles alone give our police department strong visibility on Main Street,” he said in the statement. “With all the pedestrians walking downtown, the foot traffic to and from area businesses and our deep police presence; this crime still occurred.”

The town currently has one squad of officers downtown, an officer that walks the beat, as well as two sectors that overlap in the area, Mr. Walter said.

He declined to detail exactly how many officers were added to downtown patrols.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said he will request $104,000 in the resolution to pay for part-time officers to supplement police patrols downtown.

Chief Hegermiller said the figure should pay for at least two extra part-time officers per shift.

Mr. Walter said he hadn’t shared the reoslution with the other members of the Town Board yet, but planned to have the resolution go up for a vote at the board’s meeting on Jan. 15.

The robbery that prompted Mr. Walter’s statement occurred Saturday, when a young couple walking back from a day at the Long Island Aquarium were robbed at knife-point by a man on a bike.

The man stole their wallets and phones before fleeing the scene. Police are still investigating the incident.

The robbery came less than a day after a Brookhaven Hamlet man was killed after being struck by two cars on East Main Street while out celebrating his 50th birthday. Scott Wayte was struck while crossing East Main Street about 5:40 p.m. by a car that fled the scene. He was knocked into another lane and struck again by a different car, whose driver pulled over after the accident.

On Wednesday, police arrested Joseph Plummer, 48, of Middle Island and charged him with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident involving the death of a pedestrian, a felony. Mr. Plummer, who authorities said had multiple previous criminal convictions, is being held at the county jail without bail.

The full crime statistics for Riverhead were not yet publicly available for 2012.

Mr. Walter, who also serves as police commissioner for the town, added he will request the state Department of Transportation to paint new striping for Main Street crosswalks to make them more visibile to drivers, look to improve sidewalks and address any “lighting shortfalls” in the area.

Eileen Peters, a DOT spokeswoman, said the agency was already working with the town on a proposal to improve sidewalks that should begin construction late this year.

That proposal will fill in missing sidewalk links along Main Street from River Road to Center Street and reconstruct the exiting sidewalks between Griffin and Union avenues, Ms. Peters said.

The DOT and town are considering the installation of new benches, additional lighting and trimming trees to improve visibility, Ms. Peters said, adding wider crosswalks are one proposed idea that may be included in the project to slow down traffic.

“We would gladly consider that and look into that,” she said.

To minimize the effects on businesses, the construction work would be done at night and there will be no construction or daytime lane closures between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Ms. Peters said. All local businesses would have daytime access.

“No business would be blocked because of construction,” she said.

A second project backed by federal funding is expected to be awarded on Jan. 10, Ms. Peters said.

That project will connect bicycle and pedestrian paths and make improvements to sidewalks, she said.

In the statement released Friday, Mr. Hegermiller advised residents to be vigilant, use crosswalks when crossing the street and report any suspicious activity to the police department.

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