The Southold Town Police Department is now responsible for patrolling Fishers Island.
On Wednesday, State Troopers vacated the barracks they used as a police station on Fishers Island for more than a decade, leaving the island without armed first responders for several days. For more than a year, the troopers said they have raised concerns over decreasing conditions at the barracks, which troopers stopped living in this past January, and the need for a safer facility more conducive to police work.
“This facility is just not acceptable anymore, not only to the troopers, but really to the people on that island,” Major Stephen J. Udice, a New York State Troop Commander who oversees Troop L, which covers Nassau and Suffolk Counties, said in a telephone interview. “God forbid there was a major crime, this facility just no longer meets the needs of the state police or of the community … It was brought to my attention last summer, the summer of 2022, that the facility itself that was being provided had fallen into a state of disrepair.”
The onus now lies on Southold Town to patrol the distant island, which falls under its jurisdiction. While Southold Police Department’s operations on Fishers Island began on Monday, it remains unclear how many officers will be assigned to the area and the duration and frequency of their shifts.
“As of Wednesday, November 1, 2023 the New York State Police suspended their law enforcement coverage of Fishers Island,” a statement Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley issued Friday evening reads. “The Southold Town Police Department has assumed law enforcement duties on Fishers Island and will be working toward a seamless transition for Island residents. Final arrangements are being made for our department’s temporary office space at the Fishers Island Community Center until a more permanent solution is implemented. We look forward to establishing a working relationship with all Fishers Island residents as well as the Fishers Island School District.”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell could not yet offer specifics regarding previous arrangements with the state troopers, nor any future arrangements to the state or the town to maintain police presence on the island.
“We’re going to have police presence over there shortly,” he said following a special Town Board meeting held Friday morning.
State troopers, union reps and Mr. Russell have engaged in discussions regarding the barracks since the summer of 2022, according to Mr. Udice.
“We had a plan in March,” Mr. Russell said. “They changed their minds. We’ve been working on it and working in good faith since.”
Mr. Russell declined to expand on specifics of these discussions, citing that they involved “contractual issues.”
Mr. Udice said, “We’ve had a number of conversations, we’ve had a number of meetings over the last year, and unfortunately, there was never a meaningful or actionable plan put in place. There were several meetings to discuss this, and because there was never any movement on it, unfortunately, we were put in a position where we could no longer work out of that facility.”
For more than a decade, the troopers assigned to Fishers Island used the barracks as their base of operations, despite its lack of spaces typical of a police station, such as interview rooms, a secure space for evidence and a holding cell.
The troopers also used the barracks as their living quarters, but circumstances changed this past winter.
“It just fell into a state of decay,” Mr. Udice explained. “In December of 2022, the furnace went out, and the fix to that was to plug in space heaters into an already identified inadequate electrical system … We couldn’t have a trooper in a facility sleeping at night with the possibility of that electrical system being overloaded. We already had it inspected and we were told this electrical system is inadequate. That was just one of the many problems with the building.”
The troop commander said the state officers considered pulling out of the island at that point, but the town then rented a residential space to quarter troopers, where they stayed until Wednesday.
Mr. Udice said the most recent meeting between state and town officials took place in September, at which time current events were foreshadowed.
“The town was notified back in September … that if there was not an actionable plan presented, we would be forced to cease our operations on October 31,” he said. “On October 30, after not hearing from the town or not receiving an actionable plan, it was shared with them that we would be leaving the town as we said we would back in mid September.”
While the troopers will no longer be regularly stationed at Fishers Island, Mr. Udice explained they will still offer service to the island.
“This is going to be much more challenging for us now,” he said. “We’re going to do our best on occasion to get troopers over there and have our troopers patrol, but it will not be nearly as effective, or as much of a presence as it was when the town was able to provide us with a facility. So what we’ll do now, is we’ll have to respond to any incidents or complaints from the next nearest state police station, which would be our Riverside station.”