On Oct. 31, after notifying Southold Town of their plans, New York State troopers shuttered their barracks on Fishers Island, loaded what needed to be removed onto a truck and waved goodbye.
Law enforcement duties on the island, which is part of Southold Town, suddenly became the responsibility of the Southold police department. To say policing Fishers Island will be a challenge for the town is an understatement: It is only reachable by ferry from Orient Point to New London, and then to Fishers Island, a half-day trip.
The barracks used by the troopers as a residence and an office has been widely described as being in overall disrepair and the main reason for their exit. In recent weeks the furnace has not worked. One person who has visited the barracks described it as being in “really bad shape.”
This is how Maj. Stephen Udice, a state trooper commander who oversees Nassau and Suffolk counties, described it in an interview with The Suffolk Times last week: “This facility is just not acceptable anymore, not only to the troopers, but really to the people on that island.
“God forbid there was a major crime; this facility just no longer meets the needs of the state police or of the community,” he added. “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 Suffolk Times spoke with Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley about law enforcement plans for the island. He said, among other points, that two of his officers are now using the island’s community center as an office and are living in a rental house. His answers to the questions below have been edited for space and clarity.
Why did the state troopers pull out?
They pulled out because they had the one town-owned building. That was the trooper barracks. They lived in it and it was also their office. They had a room upstairs they used. They needed a separate workspace, which I totally understand.
They pushed the issue and the furnace went out and the troopers said enough is enough. They needed to be put up somewhere. They moved to a motel in New London and they took the ferry back and forth.
That satisfied the living quarter part of it. But they wanted an office to work out of. We are over there now using the rental house for our two officers’ lodging. The town next week should move a trailer to the island for an office and we can move out of the community center.
What are your officers’ duties on the island?
Our biggest commitment is the Fishers Island School. [The district maintains one building for all grades and has approximately 57 students]. If you have a school on the island, what if something happens and law enforcement is needed for that? We do have local constables on the island, but they are not armed.
The troopers have been there well over 20 years, but they used to be there just in the summer. Back in 2017-18 they started year-round coverage. For now, we are just weekdays.
What are the town’s plans moving forward?
We are sending two officers over. They take the ferry to New London and then to the island. You waste a half-day on that. They go over on Monday and come back on Friday. We will rotate the next week. The two there the first week had a very good experience and were treated very well. The people have been very welcoming. I feel bad leaving on the weekend, however. But we just don’t have the manpower.
Do you expect the troopers to come back?
We hope, with improvements made, the troopers will come back. But the conditions have to improve.