How Are South Fork Police Dealing With COVID-19?

T. E. McMorrow
Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, shown here at a 2019 press conference, said last week that he appreciates the strong support the community is showing for his department.

The Town of East Hampton Police Department has seen a 10 percent increase in activity from this time last year, according to call logs. This has been attributed to a population swelled by the number of summer and weekend homes that have become full-time residences to those seeking refuge from COVID-19.

According to weekly records, from 8 AM March 25 to 8 AM April 5, 2019, 346 events were logged, compared to 382 over the same time period this year. This increased activity is coming at a time when the department is coping with an unprecedented change in procedures, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to Chief Michael Sarlo, two officers have tested positive for COVID-19. One was treated and has since recovered, while the other remains in quarantine. Five officers who had symptoms tested negative for the disease.

“We are encouraging officers to be extra mindful of any potential symptoms, for themselves or any household members,” he said Friday. “There is obviously a lot of anxiety over bringing the virus home from work.”

Over in the Town of Southampton, police Chief Steven Skrynecki said crime hasn’t exactly gone down, but it has changed.

“There aren’t as many burglaries, of course, because everyone is home,” he said, adding this leads to officers needing to keep a closer eye on unattended businesses.

For the public, Southampton Lieutenant Susan Ralph has instigated a driveway chalk challenge for residents through April 16, offering locals a chance to thank first responders and medical personnel. Artwork can be submitted to [email protected]

“People have been bringing casseroles and other food for us and leaving it at the station,” Skrynecki said. “It’s been a time of reconnection and it’s been nice to feel appreciation from the community.”

On a personal note, both Skrynecki and Ralph are taking care of their own mental health, as well as offering aid to members of the department.

“I’ve taken up running again,” Skrynecki said, adding physical activity helps with mental clarity and keeping focused. Ralph, who has long practiced yoga and has horses which she said are very therapeutic, recently adopted a vegan diet. She also continues the Young Explorers online program for teens who may be interested in a career in law enforcement.

Sarlo said he also makes sure to spend the few hours of downtime he has with his family, trying to find a few minutes to help his daughter, who is missing her varsity lacrosse season, with some drills and skills, or shooting hoops at home.

“Having two school-aged kids who are adjusting to the distance learning and missing out on so much, is the same parenting challenge for my wife and I that we are all going through,” he said. “My son turns 17 and had his driver’s test cancelled. We’re dealing with all the same challenges and realities everyone else is as well. There’s so much uncertainty for the kids during this time, it’s tough on everyone.”

As in Southampton, changes in protocol for the East Hampton Police Department are many, according to Sarlo.

“We shut down walk-in complaints, and limit the types of calls we are going on, taking [complaints] over the phone when possible,” he said.

Officers maintain social distancing when responding to calls, and “do not to enter any residences or buildings unless absolutely necessary,” the chief said. When doing so, a mask and gloves are required.

Both departments acknowledged they have also upped their cleaning practices.

“We are sanitizing our vehicles before, during, and after shifts,” Sarlo said. All surfaces, including doors and handles, are constantly being cleaned. The dispatch officers now work alone, and also wear masks, with their equipment constantly being sanitized. Vehicles are too, before, during, and after shifts.

It is important, the chief believes, to communicate to the entire department how appreciative members of the public are to their efforts.

“The support has been excellent,” Sarlo said, with the department receiving donations including pizzas, Girl Scout cookies, and protective masks and gear. “We are a community-oriented police department, and in times like these, that mutual respect and cooperation certainly bears out.”

Sarlo, currently the president of the East End Chiefs Association, conferences via phone and video with heads of departments, including Skrynecki, focusing on, among other things, enforcement of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE order — a 10-point policy that includes the shutdown of nonessential businesses — in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

By T.E. McMorrow and Bridget LeRoy
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