Exclusive Village Debates the Roles Of Law Officers

New York Times

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Ms. Crescenzo said there have also been concerns by residents that the constables are overzealous to the point of harassing people.

“One woman ran into the house and got a ticket for leaving her engine running,” she said. “When it comes to moving violations, outsiders get immediate tickets while villagers get 10 to 12 warnings.”

The legality of the Poquott constabulary stems from a 1959 pact, when the Suffolk County Police Department was formed. Before that, most villages and towns provided their own police departments. With the formation of one department that would cover all but the five westernmost towns, incorporated villages were given an opportunity to accept county coverage, or, if they had their own police force, to continue to provide their own. The decision was made by referendum, and all but eight villages voted to go with the county. The eight, according to the Suffolk County Police Department, are Amityville, Asheroken, Head of the Harbor, Huntington Bay, Lloyd Harbor, Nissequogue, Northport and Ocean Beach. Some others might have constables or code enforcers, but, the county attorney said, their duties are limited in scope.

Poquott voted for county protection. But two years ago, Mayor Peter Murphy said, concerns about public safety and speeding on the roads led the village to hire constables.

“We felt response time by the Suffolk County Police Department was too slow and that we had to take matters into our own hands,” said Mr. Murphy, who added that the constables did not replace the police department, but merely augmented it.

“Our position is pretty clear,” he said. “When the Poquott voters voted to join the police district, they gave up their power to have police functions.”

Mr. Cimino said the courts have ruled in favor of the county when these issues have come up.

The village of Port Jefferson, which incorporated in 1966, after the county police department was formed, fought right up to the United States Supreme Court to be allowed to withdraw from the county police district. It lost.

In Nassau County, said County Attorney Owen B. Walsh, villages cannot have both the county police and private security performing the same duties. This issue, he said, was decided in 1984, when the village of Woodsburgh wanted to provide its own police department in addition to the county.

“Woodsburgh attempted to augment the coverage they had with us,” Mr. Walsh said. “It didn’t square with the charter and the courts upheld that.” Ultimately, because the Nassau County charter allows villages to vote for withdrawal from the police district, Woodsburgh chose to opt out and form its own police force.


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