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Sagaponack to consider its own police department

The tiny Hamptons village of Sagaponack will consider splitting away from the Southampton Police Department to either form its own force or contract with another department, as officials complained Monday that they haven't received enough police protection for what they pay.

The village pays about $2.3 million a year to the town for police protection -- about 10 percent of the larger town police department's annual budget.

The village of 700 mostly second homes gets one seasonal officer between May and September assigned to it, but is otherwise part of a larger area that is patrolled by a car.

Mayor Donald Louchheim said his calculations found the village can save money by doing its own policing.

"In the worst-case scenario, we could save a half million dollars a year. In the best-case scenario, we could save $1 million a year," he said. Police protection is the largest part of Sagaponack's budget.

But beyond costs, Louchheim said he wants a different type of policing. "What happens in most villages -- community policing," he said. "Where officers get out of their cars and walk around."

He said Southampton's understaffed force is busy elsewhere on more serious crimes, leaving less time for the quality-of-life issues that Sagaponack residents care about.

"Even if they're willing to provide the manpower, can they provide that kind of policing?" he asked.

The area used to be almost exclusively potato fields, but has become one of the wealthiest areas in the Hamptons. The village, which the U.S. Census put at a full-time population of 311 in 2010, was incorporated in 2005.

The village's June police report consisted of 84 traffic stops in June and one reported robbery, aof a construction site.

Former Southampton Town police chief William Wilson said he has prepared cost estimates for a new village police department. Wilson, who retired from the Southampton Police Department last year after a contentious 18 months as chief, said he'd be interested in being Sagaponack police chief if it's offered to him.

Louchheim said it's premature to discuss who the next chief might be.

The village will hold a meeting for residents on Aug. 10. Village trustees asked that Southampton Police Chief Robert Pearce attend. Pearce, as well as Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, did not return calls Monday.

Louchheim said a new department, if the village moves forward, could be in effect by Jan. 1, 2014.

The issue comes at a time when other village police departments are struggling with budgets. In Sag Harbor, that village's police staffing was a major campaign issue in the local election.

Lee Foster, Sagaponack's deputy mayor, said calling the public meeting comes after more than two years of complaints about police protection and costs.

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