Southampton: No police on political committees

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May

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

Southampton Town has banned police department personnel from being members of political committees in a move aimed at quelling allegations that the department has been influenced by politics.

In a 4-1 vote, the council amended its ethics code Tuesday night, which will affect two of the more than 100 full and part-time officers -- including Lt. James Kiernan, the former head of the department's controversial now-defunct drug unit and a Southampton Republican committeeman.

Councilman Jim Malone, a Conservative Party member, voted no, saying the resolution clearly targeted Kiernan.

"If we can't trust their judgment to not be clouded by politics with their job, we shouldn't give them a gun and a badge in the first place," Malone said.

The two Republicans on the board, Christine Scalera and Chris Nuzzi, voted for the new policy, brought by Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, a Democrat. Scalera said while she still has concerns about limiting someone's political activity, she believes the town should address concerns in the community about the influence of politics in law enforcement.

Kiernan, in a brief statement yesterday over the phone, said, "The only politics I ever faced was during William Wilson's tenure."

He referred follow-up questions to his attorney, Ray Perini of Hauppauge.

Former Chief William Wilson Jr. was hired as the town's chief in a split vote in 2011. Wilson was brought in as the outsider to change a department viewed in some Suffolk County law enforcement circles as isolated.

Wilson, who served for 18 months, charged in an ethics complaint that Kiernan's political position as a GOP committeman unduly influenced Republican members of the town board. Wilson argued that those council members should be forced to recuse themselves from disciplinary decisions against Kiernan, because he also played a role in the political screening process for the council members' jobs. That complaint was dismissed.

But controversy around Kiernan and the town's drug unit has continued. The Suffolk County district attorney's office has spent a year reviewing convictions that stemmed from police work by the Street Crime Unit. Convictions of seven men have been overturned.

Fleming brought forward the resolution Tuesday night as "an effort to take politics out of police work," she said.

Fleming said the resolution was not targeted at any individual or party and would eliminate "even a suspicion any police department member is influenced. We're doing cops a favor."

Nuzzi said after the hearing he finds the "timing suspect."

But, he said, he supported it to help "remove any appearance of a conflict."

Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, said he's not aware of any restrictions on political involvement among other Suffolk County governments.

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