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Report: Southampton village police has 'excessive expenses and few controls'

A report, commissioned by the Village of Southampton,

A report, commissioned by the Village of Southampton, found the Southampton Village Police Department needs better financial controls, outlining overtime spending, shift schedule management and the department's off-duty employment policy as areas needing improvement. Credit: Newsday/Gordon M. Grant

The Southampton Village Police Department has few controls on overtime spending and receives no "tangible impact" from the officer it assigned to a regional drug task force, according to a newly released department operations report.

The 66-page report commissioned by the village said the department "provides quality policing" for the village, but outlined several areas for improvement including overtime spending, shift schedule management and the department’s off-duty employment policy. It will be up to the five-member village board to decide which recommendations to implement and how.

"We clearly need to improve our village police department by curtailing all the waste, nepotism and mismanagement," said Village Mayor Jesse Warren. "That will make our village even safer."

The village paid the consulting firm owned by Edmund Hartnett, a former New York Police Department deputy chief and former Commissioner of the Yonkers Police Department, $40,000 to complete the report. The study, released Friday, is separate from the state-mandated police reform initiative and looked at spending and management in the 33-member department.

Chief Thomas Cummings said in a statement that it is "clear that some conclusions reached in the report are simply wrong," but said a report from an experienced professional like Hartnett "should and will be accepted as a constructive process." He declined to elaborate.

Southampton Village hired Chief Cumming’s son, Thomas Cummings Jr., as a police officer in 2019, despite a village ethics code that bars an employee from supervising a relative.

PBA president Michael Horstman in a statement said the report was a "clear attempt by the Mayor to distract the voters" during an election year.

Warren and the PBA have clashed before with the union passing a vote of no confidence against the mayor last summer. Signs reading "Save Our Police Southampton Village in Crisis" popped up in the village last week.

An analysis of overtime "revealed excessive expenses and few controls in place," the report states. The village police department spent $459,000 on overtime in 2020 or 7.4% of its budget, which is higher than the 5% the report recommends as a best practice.

The highest overtime spending was for communications and for officers on the Suffolk County District Attorney’s East End Drug Task Force. The study recommends village officials consider discontinue membership on the task force.

"There were seemingly no violent crimes solved, no wanted suspects located, no local gangs dismantled, no tangible impact on local drug conditions and no apparent impact on the local opioid crisis," the study states. The officer assigned to the task force, who the report does not name, incurred 724 hours doing that work and earned more than $80,000 in overtime.

"There appeared to be no oversight on these expenses and the investigator had essentially a ‘blank check’ to work overtime," the report states.

The report criticizes the department’s off-duty employment policy as vague and recommends that secondary off-duty employment be prohibited in the village, and if possible, throughout Southampton Town. East End police officer often work lucrative private security jobs for the Hamptons’ wealthy residents.

It also said the department’s canine unit "seems to be a luxury that the Village cannot afford" and recommended asking the local school district to share in the cost of a school resource officer.

The department should also strive for more diversity in hiring as the last 10 new recruits were all white males, according to the report.

A five-member nonpartisan village board-appointed task force was asked to review the report and present its findings during Friday’s Village Board meetings. Among their recommendations was having the village trustees serve as a police oversight board.

"While we don’t doubt that the individual officers of the SVPD have the best interests of the community at heart, there are clear and serious problems with mismanagement and waste," task force members said in a statement. "Better oversight of the Department by the Village is clearly needed, as are major reforms to SVPD policies and practices."

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