Southold Town Police Chief: ‘We are worried about Greenport Village’

With the Memorial Day weekend ahead, Southold Town prepares for an influx of tourists and visitors with one message: wear masks and respect social distancing. Increased enforcement will be seen in downtown Greenport throughout the weekend, with added police department bike and foot patrols, to enforce those conditions.

On Thursday, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell reinforced the rules now in place: “Beach, road ends and boat ramps are restricted to ‘residents only;’ all vehicles at these sites must have ‘resident parking’ permits displayed; there will be no lifeguards on duty and bathrooms will not be opened until June 27; social distancing must be maintained at all times; masks are required at beaches unless the person is stationary on a blanket, chair or towel or during swimming.”

Also, Mr. Russell said in a press release, “Gatherings on the beach shall be members of the same household only. Gatherings in the water are prohibited.”

On Thursday, The Suffolk Times interviewed Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley about the coming weekend. His comments were edited for space and clarity.

ST: On Thursday, the police department issued a press release saying the town’s bay constables have conducted heighted beach patrols to enforce town codes, environmental conservation laws as well as navigation laws. Is this part of a town effort to stay ahead of social distancing and other issues we face now?

Chief Flatley: We started last weekend and we brought in our summer help earlier than usual. We have seven traffic control officers and we have broken them into areas of responsibility focused on the beaches. We have issued 240 parking tickets as the supervisor has restricted the beaches to residents only. We are watching that very carefully.

Our marine units are also out due to the amount of fishermen coming to our beaches. They are here in large numbers partly because the fishing is good. A lot of what we are seeing is people from the five boroughs of New York City. There are a lot of complaints about garbage and illegal fishing, the taking of undersized fish and fishing in areas where you can’t. We’ve seen people putting up tents on the beach for the weekend. And there are no bathrooms.

ST: Is there heightened pressure for the department to play a greater role in crowd and social distancing requirements?

Chief Flatley: I’d like to think this is more of a recommendation that the governor has given to everyone. And people should police themselves as well. Some people are ignoring that. It can turn into a law enforcement problem. There have been lots of calls about social distancing and not wearing masks. We have been trying to educate people, but that process is over. We are looking for voluntary compliance. We have not written any tickets on this.  Even New York City PD is not enforcing mask policies. We don’t want to get into a roll around with anyone.

ST: By all appearances, Greenport Village is in a particularly precarious place. It’s a hugely popular tourist draw, yet the sidewalks are only five feet in width and many of the stores, restaurants and can’t not have people in them yet.

Chief Flatley: We have been thinking a lot about Greenport. It will be a learning curve for us. It’s a destination due to its popular restaurants and bars. The challenge in the village will be to maintain the distancing and how businesses react to the restrictions on them. Every business has concerns about not complying with the instructions. We have tried to address that.

We will have officers this weekend on bike patrols to help with social distancing. Our officers carry a bag of masks for anyone who wants them. I am concerned about Greenport for sure. Claudios opens this weekend.  They can only do takeout and they can’t have any outdoor dining. You can’t walk to a table and eat there. We will enforce it the best we can. A lot of townships are taking out their benches for that reason. You can order from a store but you can’t go in.

So we will also have foot patrols. We have some recruits from the police academy on the ground in the village for added presence. We will rely a lot on the public doing its part.

ST: How will the increased patrols in the village work?

Chief Flatley: The bike patrols will be on the day shift, plus the 4 to 12 shift. There will be two foot patrol officers there, and a canine officer as well. So we will expand our effort in the village. The more visible we are, the better it will be.

ST: One of the 7 metrics that must be met before Phase 1 can begin is contact tracing, where investigators work backwards to see with whom an infected person came into contact. Is there a police department role in that?

Chief Flatley: I just did a conference call on this question. And how the state feels we are close to a phase 1 opening. I am guessing that will be early June. But they have a way to go to build up a compliment of contact tracers. We were told it needed to be 300-400, but now it’s much higher.

They will do most of the tracing by sitting at a laptop with a cellphone. I don’t see us having a big role in this.

You know, the public watches the news and sees people having big, impromptu parties and no one wants that scenario and that’s why we have to do our best in Greenport Village. But with state beaches closed only to county residents, I can see people driving all the way to Orient Beach State Park and that place filling up.

Greenport is worried about crowds and we share their worry.