Huntington officials plan to hire armed park rangers to be assigned to parks in Huntington Station.
Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said he will be starting the program and briefing staff this week about hiring three or four part-time park rangers, likely retired police officers. It’s one of several safety measures town officials and Suffolk County police are undertaking before the summer season.
Town officials, police and residents have been meeting regularly about issues in Huntington Station, including revitalization projects — planned and underway — and crime. New safety measures, including adding the park rangers, were being considered before shootings last month in Huntington Station.
“This is an option, not a solution to the problem . . . it’s another dimension of having a presence,” Petrone said of adding armed park rangers. “When you have a presence it makes certain people uncomfortable because they know they have eyes and ears on them.”
He said the park rangers would also have jurisdiction in the streets surrounding the parks.
The rangers would have peace officer status, which allows them to carry guns, and will patrol parks including Manor Field, Depot Road, and the plaza on New York Avenue and Olive Street. Petrone said a separate group of public safety officers will also soon be visible conducting foot patrols along New York Avenue and Depot Road.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said the county has begun to put more resources in Huntington Station: increased patrols; the Fire Arm Suppression Team, also known as FAST, an “elite” group of officers charged with getting illegal firearms off the street; increased coordination of Second Precinct detectives with FAST, the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and an enhanced strategy to combat narcotics. Bicycle patrols will soon join the list, Sini said.
“We’re going to hunker down,” Sini said. “We’ll start now before the summer months come to hopefully get ahead of that uptick that typically comes with warmer days. We’ll keep the pressure on and hopefully we will see results.”
On May 4, police arrested two men in an April 23 shooting that injured a man at the Huntington Station LIRR parking lot. Police said the shooting appeared to be drug-related.
Also on April 23, someone fired shots at two men standing in the driveway of a home on East Sixth Street about 10:15 p.m., police said. Some bullets struck a home while others hit a vehicle in the driveway next door.
On April 26, police responding to a ShotSpotter activation in Huntington Station found spent bullet casings on the ground, but could not find anyone who’d witnessed someone firing a gun.
Petrone said the recent shootings seem to be isolated, gang-related or personal disagreements.
“It’s not an all-out shooting spree in Huntington Station,” Petrone said. “We see this in the spring; it’s almost like a calendar event. I think the signal here is how do we deal with this before it happens.”
Jim McGoldrick, a lifelong Huntington Station resident and community activist, said he is encouraged by the town’s plans and “ecstatic” about the county police reaction to residents’ concerns.
“If anybody thinks they are going to live in a crime-free area today, they are rudely mistaken,” McGoldrick said. “But we are moving in the right, positive direction.”
Robert Rockelein, a Huntington Station resident for six years, said with several revitalization plans coming to fruition — Renaissance Downtowns Gateway Plaza and the Northridge projects, plus plans for increased lighting and sidewalks along Depot Road — he hopes it will spur improvements in other areas of the hamlet.
“Over the last several decades, I have witnessed about a dozen neighborhoods literally go from ‘rags to riches’ and transformed from areas that you look to avoid, to areas that you would aspire to live and work in,” he said. “Huntington Station can be that kind of place. It has spent too long as the sequestered stepsister to the Huntington village area; its Cinderella story is long overdue.”