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Dec 5, 2012 11:23 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

New Southampton Town Police Chief Pearce Explains Goals

Dec 5, 2012 11:23 AM

Robert Pearce, a nearly 32-year veteran of the Southampton Town Police Department, is set to be sworn in as its chief today, succeeding the short, turbulent tenure of Chief William Wilson Jr.

This latest leadership transition at the top of the East End’s largest law enforcement agency returns command to a department insider, as Chief Pearce has served on the force since 1981 and recently served as a union president for ranking officers. By comparison, his immediate predecessor rose through the ranks of the Southampton Village Police Department before transferring to the town in 2011.

Chief Wilson resigned effective December 1, filing retirement papers and, citing among his reasons for leaving, the battles with the Republican/Conservative Town Board majority. Conservative Party member Jim Malone and Republicans Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera make up the same majority that pushed through—without Chief Wilson’s recommendation—then-Lieutenant Pearce’s promotion to captain in March, a 3-2 vote that paved the path for his ultimate promotion to chief.

Also, the new chief’s unanimous appointment by the Town Board last week came the same week that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota’s office said its investigation into what it termed “troubling administrative practices” in the department—a probe sparked by information provided to the D.A. by Chief Wilson—remained ongoing, and that it would issue a report to the town early next year.

Chief Pearce, 56, started out as a Nassau County corrections officer in 1978, joined the Town Police as a patrol officer in 1981, worked plainclothes in the department’s Street Crime Unit in 1986 until his promotion to sergeant in 1987, followed by promotion to lieutenant in 1993, where he oversaw the department’s patrol section and investigative function. He is also a firearms instructor and serves as a representative on the Suffolk County Traffic Safety Board.

In an interview in his new office at police headquarters in Hampton Bays on Monday, his first official workday in his new post, Chief Pearce discussed some of his goals for the department.

He noted that he was thrust into his new leadership role in the middle of the town’s budget planning process for 2013, for which it recently allotted roughly $22.2 million for the department. Chief Pearce said the budgeting process made him feel the frustrations of his predecessor, whom he credited for trying to steer the force in positive directions. At the same time, he acknowledged that the numbers he was given are what he has to work with, however difficult they may be.

“Fiscal constraints, that’s going to be our main emphasis. How do we keep the officers on the street in the areas that they’re needed when our resources are being continuously depleted?” he said, noting that the cost of ammunition, for example, has gone up 66 percent this year.

The most important issue in the budget, he said, was staffing. It supports an 89-officer force—a big drop from the 102 officers in the department just five years ago, and one fewer than was budgeted for last year. The town cut other areas of the budget to allow for two new police officers and a full-time traffic control officer next year, and Chief Pearce said he is looking to get new officers, possibly from a new police academy session to start this month, and has also requested the town use a new Civil Service list composed of Spanish-speaking officers to help in the heavily Hispanic jurisdiction.

Chief Pearce said he does not believe using overtime is the best way to maintain proper levels of police protection amid a short-staffed force, a sticking point between his predecessor and the Town Board. He said he needs boots on the ground, but also hopes that upgraded technology, particularly a new computer-aided dispatch system and records management system, will help do the trick.

Currently, the department has nine disabled officers, six who are out for line-of-duty injuries, two out for non-line-of-duty injuries and one assigned to light duty awaiting determination on retirement disability. Though those numbers are consistent with numbers in the past, the force was better able to absorb the brunt of injured officers when it was bigger, he said.

The new chief pointed out that the 1990s-era technology in the department is outdated, but, unlike his predecessor, who sought a comprehensive overhaul of the department’s technology and pitched a single vendor to replace it, Chief Pearce said he thinks the town would like to see a larger scope of products considered and said that he was told by the town comptroller’s office that he would be able to take smaller steps toward a technology upgrade.

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Good luck and much success to Chief Robert Pearce.
By Jimion (124), Hampton Bays on Dec 5, 12 8:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
Dabney Coleman !!
By AndersEn (166), Southampton on Dec 5, 12 8:59 PM
bay street, sag harbor,