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Southampton debates plan to keep cops from politics

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May

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

A bid to separate Southampton law enforcement from politics drew the support of town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst yesterday, even as another town board member assailed the plan for targeting one police department member.

The proposal by Councilwoman Bridget Fleming would prevent officers, from patrol to the chief, from serving as political party officials or committee members.

Other towns and Suffolk County prevent only top-level employees, such as department heads, from serving on political party committees, according to town attorneys.

The proposal's first public hearing was held yesterday. It is to be voted on May 28.

"Our cops should be supported in doing their jobs without the pressure of politics or even the suspicion that they may be improperly influenced," Fleming said.

She said the law is not targeted at anyone, and asserted the law is constitutional.

Though his name was not spoken publicly yesterday, Lt. James Kiernan, a former supervisor of the defunct Street Crime unit, is a Southampton Republican committee member.

An ongoing review by the county district attorney of cases handled by the Street Crime unit, which handled most drug busts in the town, has led to dismissals of convictions against seven men.

Councilman Jim Malone, a Conservative Party member, questioned staff on how many people the ban would affect. When Fleming jumped in, he said sharply he was still asking questions.

Only one of 90 full-time police officers is a committee member, staff said. Fleming said one of the 12 to 20 seasonal officers is a committee member.

"I find it ironic that out of 100 members of law enforcement, this only applies to one or two," Malone said after the meeting.

Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member endorsed by Democrats, said she supported the resolution but the timing was "uncomfortable. The perception could be that we're targeting one individual."

But, she said, law enforcement is a special case, because it can "bring down the letter of the law."

For the resolution to pass, one other council member would have to join Fleming and Throne-Holst.

GOP council members Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera said after the meeting they were undecided.

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