The Southampton Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to appoint Southampton Town Police Captain Robert Pearce as the department’s new chief.
The promotion will take effect on Saturday, December 1, and Capt. Pearce will be officially sworn in to his new position on Thursday, December 6, in a ceremony at Town Hall.
Capt. Pearce, who will earn $166,669 a year as chief—just $8 more than his predecessor, William Wilson Jr.—has been serving as the department’s interim commanding officer since Chief Wilson submitted his resignation earlier this month.
The new chief will inherit a department that has been embroiled in turmoil for much of the 18-month tenure of his predecessor. The department’s dirty laundry has been repeatedly made public in recent months and includes Chief Wilson’s filing of dozens of disciplinary charges against one of his senior officers, the suspension of an officer accused of being addicted to prescription medications, and the launching of an investigation by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office for what investigators called years of “troubling” practices under past administrations that led to the release of two convicted felons from prison earlier this year.
The departing chief had butted heads repeatedly with Republican members of the Town Board over his requests for funding for technology upgrades at the police department’s headquarters in Hampton Bays, over climbing overtime salary costs, and over the suspension of Lieutenant James Kiernan, a Southampton Town Republican Committee member. Chief Wilson has alleged that the town’s GOP had made overtures to get him to quit the post as early as last spring.
Capt. Pearce said this week that he is confident the department will have smoother sailing in the near future. “The department is now moving forward with a seamless transition where we will, hopefully, be able to put these issues behind us, work together, and move into 2013 in a positive light,” he said.
Capt. Pearce has been on the town force for more than 30 years and had been considered by the Town Board for the chief’s position in 2011, after the retirement of former Chief James Overton and before Chief Wilson, who was chief of the Southampton Village Police Department at the time, was hired.
Capt. Pearce was promoted to captain from lieutenant by the Town Board in March. That promotion, however, also was caught up in the tumult and came with the support of only three of the five Town Board members and without the recommendation of Chief Wilson, who hinted at the time that the promotion was a political move by the Republican-Conservative majority on the board. Town Councilman James Malone is the only Conservative Party member on the board; Republican members are Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera.
Support for promoting Capt. Pearce, who led the town’s emergency response before, during and after Hurricane Sandy in Chief Wilson’s absence—he was on vacation the week the storm swept through the Northeast—was broader this time around, as all five members of the Town Board asked to co-sponsor the resolution appointing him as the new chief.
Kevin Gwinn, vice president of the Southampton Town Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, offered praise for Chief Wilson upon his departure. “We feel he was not given a chance,” he said on behalf of the union representing police officers. “Everything he requested or tried to do just seemed to be a uphill battle, and that’s a lot for one man to take on on his own, and that’s exactly what he did. He chose to do it by himself, as a true leader would do, and he did.
“I think he felt, by leaving, maybe we would get the support and resources we would need—and that’s all he ever asked of the Town Board,” he added. “We were proud to work for the guy.”
Staff writer Colleen Reynolds contributed to this story.