Southampton hires consultant to evaluate police force

Southampton Town has hired policing experts to study

Southampton Town has hired policing experts to study its police department. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Southampton Town has hired policing experts to study staffing and scheduling issues in its police department that have divided rank-and-file officers and town officials for years.

The report from Harnett Associates is expected within a month. It will likely tackle long-standing questions over what size force the town needs and whether officers should continue switching between day and night shifts every few days due to a controversial scheduling system, among other issues, said town and police officials familiar with the firm's work.

The town board hired the firm -- which is led by Patrick Harnett, a retired Hartford police chief and NYPD veteran -- in March for $28,750. Consultants have visited Southampton twice and will come at least once more before issuing the report, said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

"I liked the idea of having a no-dog-in-the-fight, neutral but experienced group give their perspectives," she said recently.

Harnett declined to comment on the report Wednesday.

There was a similar study prepared 11 years ago by the Bratton Group, a consulting firm led by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who was not leading the force at the time. The town board authorized spending $58,775 for the firm's work but did not follow most recommendations, which included hiring more officers, altering scheduling practices and redrawing sector boundaries, according to people familiar with the report.

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The Southampton Town Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing the town's rank-and-file police officers and detectives, has for years pressed town officials to hire more officers and change what it calls an archaic scheduling system, union officials said.

"We welcome the report," Officer Tim O'Flaherty, the PBA president, said Wednesday of the new study.

Throne-Holst said the department has 90 officers, who each earn an average of $209,000 annually in combined salary and benefits. Union officials said the number of uniformed officers has declined from about 105 to about 85 over the past decade. That puts the department on par with the force in neighboring Riverhead Town, which has about 60 percent of Southampton's year-round population of 57,000.When the population increases in the summer, officers are required to work one shift every weekend, according to union officials.


Seven officers are scheduled to patrol Southampton at a time, but there are frequently five or fewer on duty after some leave patrol to process arrests, respond to vehicle accidents or escort emotionally disturbed people to evaluations, said union officials and a former police chief.

"It is not uncommon for the Southampton Town Police Department to have three or four police cars available in a jurisdiction that is 156 square miles," said William Wilson Jr., who was chief from May 2011 to December 2012.

The PBA has also fought to end a scheduling system that requires officers to work four morning shifts, four afternoon shifts and then four overnight shifts with two days off between each change. Union officials said the town is one of the state's last still using the rotating schedule, which they said causes officers to use sick days. "It's like having jet lag every single day," said Det. Kevin Gwinn, the PBA vice president. "Officers experience flu-like symptoms. It's not the flu; it's related to exhaustion."

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