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During the pandemic year, some police calls fell, others rose

As Southold Town entered lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, some crime rates dropped off while others shot up, according to a report presented by police Chief Martin Flatley Tuesday.

Could pandemic-related impacts be to blame?

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Flatley described 2020 as a “tough year to make heads or tails of either way,” and noted that many other agencies recorded disparities in their yearly statistics.

Overall, the chief’s report noted a 9% decrease in calls to the department in 2020 over 2019 levels and noted decreases in motor vehicle accidents and crimes like aggravated assault, which fell by 57%, sex offenses and drug-related offenses.

The statistics also showed comparatively fewer DWI arrests (41 in 2020, 63 in 2019), aided cases (1,798 from 2,028), arrests (141 from 139) and possession of controlled substances (15 from 25).

But in other categories, crime rates increased.

Reports of burglaries increased 39%, with 39 incidents reported in 2020 over 28 the previous year. 

There were also more cases of larceny (221 from 171), criminal mischief (128 from 99) and simple assault (115 from 102). Police also responded to more domestic disturbances in 2020, according to the data, which shows 92 domestic violence cases and 254 domestic disturbances in 2020, over 71 domestic violence and 221 domestic disturbances in 2019.

“A large portion of the public were out of work and spent an inordinate amount of time at home with family members, which unfortunately led to more calls for domestics,” Chief Flatley said.

As for the spike in larcenies and burglaries, the police chief said those crimes could also be related to a large number of people out of work. “With burglaries, maybe a closed business or empty building or house are just a more tempting target for criminals,” he said.

Though he was expecting the number of phone calls to the police to increase in 2020 due to an influx of second homeowners and renters, the chief said he was surprised the number was down. “I would imagine the fact that restaurants, bars, stores and a lot of other activities were canceled or closed probably naturally reduced the amount of calls for service that we normally experience during busier months,” he said.

The report also included departmental updates on staffing and accreditation.

According to Chief Flatley, the accreditation process was put on hold briefly as Sgt. Scott Latham, who had been tasked with overseeing the process, stepped in to cover for one of two sergeants out on leave.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said Tuesday that he wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again. “That fill-in has to come from somewhere else,” he said. “[Accreditation] is very important right now with everything that’s going on. We need to keep moving forward,” he said.

Chief Flatley said it’s not something he foresees happening again as two officers were promoted to sergeant in February.

The Town Board also recently hired four probationary and two seasonal police officers who are expected to join the force after completing their training in the Suffolk County Police Academy.

Currently, the department is staffed with 48 employees — four short of the recommended 52 and a number Chief Flatley would like to revisit.

He’s requested an administrative staffing study be completed by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services to determine if that number, which stems from a study done 19 years ago, should be updated.