Twenty Southold Town police officers attended the Town Board’s meeting Tuesday evening to voice concerns with their communications system, saying “dead spots” in the department’s radio network were a “critical” problem.
The law enforcement protest was spurred by an incident the day before in which a suspect resisted arrested by a Southold cop, who had called for backup but never got it since the radios never relayed his emergency. The officer, Christopher Salmon, was hospitalized for treatment of injuries from that fight, but has since been released.
“This is unacceptable and just one example among many of transmission failures over the past several years,” said Southold Police Benevolent Association president Rich Buonaiuto.
Mr. Buonaiuto asked to know why a contract to hire a consultant who would survey the communications system and suggest changes hadn’t been signed yet. After his comments, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he was ready to sign the contract and was waiting for the consultant to sign his part of the agreement.
“I got the update today, and I’m going to call him first thing tomorrow to make sure he does that,” Mr. Russell said, adding that he would provide weekly updates to Mr. Buonaiuto.
Mr. Russell also pledged to support upgrades to the communications system once the consultant’s evaluation was complete.
“Tell us what you need and when you need it,” he said. “We already have funding mechanisms in place. We’re ready to go.”
After the meeting, Mr. Russell said he understood the police officer’s concerns, citing examples of locations where police radio coverage was spotty.
He intends to use a borrowing method — either a tax anticipation note or a bond anticipation note — for the upgrades identified by the consultant. Mr. Russell said the following year’s budget would then be expanded to cover the cost.
Rows of Southold Town police officers sitting and standing at the back of the Town Board meeting room waited silently, some with arms folded across their chests, as the board ran through its regular agenda and public hearings. After the meeting ended, they filed out to meet with Mr. Buonaiuto and other members of the PBA.
“Our numbers are very upset about the dead spots,” Mr. Buonaiuto said after the meeting, noting that officers who can’t connect with dispatchers may be in danger, or may be unable to summon proper help for residents. “It’s not just ourselves. It’s everybody else.”
Mr. Buonaiuto said he was happy to hear funding was available for a fix to the problem, and stated he was looking forward to hearing updates from Mr. Russell.
Earlier that day at a work session meeting, Chief Martin Flatley said a previously discussed upgrade to the police department dispatch room would cost the town about $160,000. The total cost of the project would be about $400,000, with the remainder of the costs covered by money saved from a 911 call fee.
At the meeting, Councilwoman Jill Doherty had asked when the town would look to fix the dead spots — which Mr. Flatley and telecommunications reps previously said may cost millions to resolve. Though the board never reached a consensus, Councilman James Dinizio said he believes it’ll be “well beyond” next year.
Mr. Russell later said after the evening meeting that he was unsure of when upgrades could be started, but had confidence that the consultant’s analysis would be finished quickly and that the town could take swift action.
Photo caption: Southold Town police officers stand at the back of Town Hall to show their support as PBA president Rich Buonaiuto asked for an update on a fix for the department’s radio problems. (Credit: Paul Squire)