Southampton councilwoman wants police political involvement barred

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Southampton Town Police Department personnel would be barred from serving on political committees or as political officers, under a Democratic town proposal aimed at restoring public confidence in the department.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said her resolution is not aimed at any one person, though she would not name any other police department member besides town police Lt. James Kiernan who serves as political party official or committee member.

Kiernan, a former supervisor of the now-defunct Street Crime unit, is active in Republican town politics and has been identified as one of 84 committee members of the Southampton Republican Party.

An ongoing review by the county district attorney of cases handled by the Southampton Street Crime unit, which handled most drug busts in the town, has led judges to dismiss convictions against seven men.

"There's some public concern about the influence of politics in the police department," Fleming said. "To ensure they are professional, fair and impartial, we're taking various steps moving forward, including ethics reforms."

Ray Perini, attorney for both Kiernan and the Southampton Superior Officers Association, did not return calls for comment.

The proposed law, which was introduced at a town work session meeting on Thursday, would be subject to a public hearing next month. It will face opposition.

Councilman Jim Malone, a Conservative Party member, said he thinks "it offends" the First Amendment of the country's Constitution.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi, a Republican, said Thursday he had not seen the legislation before the town board meeting and could not comment.

William Wright, chairman of the Southampton Republican Party, said he had also not seen the language.

A key complaint by former Chief William Wilson Jr., who retired late last year after 18 months on the job, was his belief that political considerations colored department policy.

"When local politics is literally dictating every personnel move or decision that a police department makes, that's a recipe for disaster," Wilson said in an interview Friday.

Wilson filed a complaint last summer with the town ethics board, arguing that those who sought GOP endorsements should recuse themselves from disciplinary matters related to Kiernan. The ethics board dismissed the complaint.

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