Riverhead officials say security cameras downtown are expected to be fully activated by the end of the week in the wake of criticism that security in the area was compromised by delays bringing the equipment, authorized by the town two years ago, online.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed Optimum — the company contracted to connect the cameras — from activating all of them, Deputy Town Attorney Daniel McCormick told the board at its July 22 work session. He added that camera system issues were found last September, including upload capacity of camera images at certain locations, that required further review.
Days before the work session, Evelyn Hobson-Womack, a retired detective with the Riverhead Police Department and a candidate for the town board, criticized the town’s delay and cited two robberies near downtown — one late on the night of July 15 in the parking lot of a Chase Bank on West Main Street and another the morning of July 17 in a parking lot on First Street.
"Had the cameras been up and working, it could have possibly been a deterrent or it could have aided police in solving the crimes," Hobson-Womack said at a July 20 news conference. "Safety is a big concern for us."
The town board voted in August 2019 to authorize spending $36,000 to add to $160,379 in Community Development Block Grant funding the town had secured to install security cameras at Grangabel Park and the Long Island Rail Road station along Railroad Avenue. The funds would also go toward upgrading the town’s police headquarters to receive video feeds from the security cameras to improve public safety and deter and reduce crime at those locations, according to the resolution the board voted on.
After pointing out that the park's cameras had not been activated as of July 20, Hobson-Womack told the board at a meeting that day that the cameras were an "enormous investment" in downtown security that had been "overlooked, ignored or just not deemed important enough" to activate quickly.
Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told Newsday that all cameras at the train station are activated and cameras at Grangabel Park are all expected to be fully activated by the end of the week. While it had originally expected to have the park's cameras activated by July 30, Optimum informed the town that the entire system has to be tested prior to activation, Aguiar said. Extra police patrols were dispatched to Grangabel Park for additional public safety in the meantime.
Aguiar said she felt the camera issue had been made into "a political point" that inadvertently jeopardized public safety at the park.
"While cameras are used to deter some crime, they are usually used for after-the-fact to solve crimes," she said. "They’re not a panacea to preventing crime."