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Mar 25, 2009 2:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Citing hassle and expense, East End police departments ignore seizure law

Mar 25, 2009 2:26 PM

Only one police department on the South Fork appears to be enforcing a Suffolk County law passed in 2005 that requires police to seize vehicles from repeat unlicensed drivers, and that one department—Southampton Village—didn’t start until 2008.

Several county officials interviewed over the past few weeks reported being wholly unaware that the law was not being enforced on the East End. When asked whose job it is to ensure that police departments are executing county laws, fingers pointed in all directions, and no one claimed responsibility.

For their part, East End police chiefs said the 2005 county law is inconsiderate of the burden it puts on their departments and they are purposely not enforcing it for several reasons—namely, the expense and hassle of seizing, towing and storing the vehicles and the expense of sending staff to forfeiture hearings.

Representatives from both camps said the law is an example of the disconnect between the county government and the police departments on the East End, which are independent of the Suffolk County Police, but still subject to county laws.

The Law in Question

According to the county’s Seizure of Vehicles Used in Commission of Offenses laws, police are directed to seize a vehicle when they find it is being driven by an unlicensed driver who was previously convicted of unlicensed driving. A county judge will then decide whether the car or truck is returned to its owner or forfeited. Under the latter circumstance, the county can then either auction the vehicle off or send it to a junkyard.

The police department that seized the car gets a cut of the proceeds from the auction or salvage.

The first time a driver is caught operating a motor vehicle without a license he or she is charged with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a violation, and typically, their driving privileges are suspended. The charge is inclusive of drivers whose licenses have expired and those who have never had a license.

For a second offense, if their privilege to drive is still suspended, the charge is elevated to aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree, a misdemeanor.

The 2005 county law includes several more circumstances under which a police officer must seize a vehicle from a driver with a suspended license—for example, if the driver’s license was revoked for vehicular homicide or manslaughter, or suspended for leaving the scene of an accident. But the provision concerning drivers who never had a license is the one that occurs most frequently, according to local police chiefs. And it’s the one some East End police agencies either have not been aware of or have chosen not to enforce.

Enforcement

On the South Fork, only the Southampton Village Police Department is known to be enforcing the law. In East Hampton Village, the police chief said he was unaware the law existed. Meanwhile, the police chiefs of the Sag Harbor Village, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town police departments said they were aware of the law, but chose not to enforce it. In Quogue Village, a lieutenant said the law is under consideration.

Westhampton Beach Village Police Chief Raymond Dean did not return calls, and it is unclear if his department is enforcing the seizure law.

In the Suffolk County Police District, which includes the five western towns in the county, the County Police have been enforcing the unlicensed driver seizure law since 2006.

The law reads that the officer who issues the driver a summons or ticket for driving without a license a second time “shall seize the instrumentality of the offense,” the instrumentality being the vehicle.

During recent interviews, George Nolan, counsel to the County Legislature, initially said police agencies outside the Suffolk County Police District can choose whether they seize vehicles under the licensing law. But after reviewing the law further, he changed his assessment and said since the law has mandatory language—as in “shall seize,” rather than “may seize”—it should be followed by all police agencies in the county.

“It is the county’s position that they have to enforce the law how it’s written,” Mr. Nolan said.

County Attorney Christine Malafi said Monday that police departments do not get to pick and choose which laws they enforce, and East End police chiefs cannot simply disregard a county law.

None of the Suffolk County officials interviewed offered a definitive answer as to whose job it is to make sure East End police departments are enforcing county laws, nor could they identify a mechanism in place for confirming the police departments are at least informed of the laws when they are adopted.

“I think we need a dialog with local law enforcement,” County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk said last week. “If we’re going to pass a law, we need to bring them into the discussion.”

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While taking a walk one afternoon within the town of Southampton, my mother was hit by an UNLICENSED DRIVER, who swerved off the road. Not only is she crippled for life, but guess what? Unlicensed drivers don't have INSURANCE. So, not only is she crippled for life, she also had to bear the cost and expense of years of surgeries and medical expenses related to the accident. Believe me, these costs add up to a bit more then the cost of towing a car. Who knows how many times the driver had been ...more
By lol@hb (20), hampton bays on Mar 25, 09 4:25 PM
So the Southampton Town Police Chief, making over $160k a year, doesn't think this law makes sense or has the manpower to enforce it? What are the 100 police officers and 15 support personnel doing all day that they are so busy? So all the unlicenesed drunk drivers that are arrested each week are back on the roads in their cars once released? Stellar job as usual Southampton PD! Maybe if you impounded cars you would have less drunk drivers to worry about and that would free up some manpower to ...more
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Mar 26, 09 9:29 AM
Yes, dangerous unlicensed and uninsured drivers, that's beneath the radar for salaried Southampton Town police. Make sure we keep their number growing, along with the 40 year pension liability. Think about that the next time you get handed your parking ticket. That's a good use of police time. And it sounds like the woman struck and crippled by the unlicensed driver has a lawsuit against the town. Perhaps that trial can be held in the new expensive Courthouse being built.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Mar 26, 09 9:09 PM
There is NOTHING that will prevent an unlicensed driver from driving other than locking him up. The vehicle that he is driving may well be insured.
You can be critical of the cop on the street, but , for whats it is worth, the Chief sets policy, not the guy in the patrol car.
So you got a parking ticket David, get over it. And how do you figure the woman spoke about above has a lawsuit? Do you know how many times the driver was cited for operating without a license? Do you know if ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on Mar 27, 09 6:42 PM
Police taxes? Educate me, where and when do I pay "police taxes"? And I'd rather that Suffolk County were running things then the "genius" Southampton Town government, with their inability to handle simple accounting. And yes, getting a ticket is a bit galling when honest citizens are hit and crippled by unlicensed drivers that the Southampton police can't be bothered to apprehend.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Mar 28, 09 5:11 PM
"Police taxes? Educate me, where and when do I pay "police taxes"? says davidf.
Well dave, try taking a look at your tax bill. Plain as day in black and white.
"And yes, getting a ticket is a bit galling when honest citizens are hit and crippled by unlicensed drivers that the Southampton police can't be bothered to apprehend" and they can be apprehended by cops seeing the scarlet letter tattooed on their forehead? And I guess the cops should stop writing any other tickets until ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on Mar 29, 09 10:43 AM
turn part of the cvs parking lot into an impound lot, and see how fast it gets filled with impounded cars from illegals and watch how fast people complain and start to open their eyes to this problem of illegals here.
By OrignialLocal (34), Southampton on Mar 29, 09 11:34 AM
Does anyone else see the correlation between this article and the one in which a poor woman was killed in a head on collision on Sat....the person driving left her and fled! Maybe...just maybe...she might still be alive if this person who fled was pulled over and vehicle taken! DOES IT GET THE POINT ACROSS???! THERE ARE REASONS FOR LAWS AND WHY THE LAW SHOULD BE ENFORCED!!!!
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 29, 09 6:14 PM
And why would he have been stopped and his vehicle taken? Because he has a tan?
By Terry (380), Southampton on Mar 29, 09 6:59 PM
Yo dave, did you look at your tax bill yet? Yup THOSE police taxes. Piece of humble pie coming your way.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Mar 30, 09 2:18 PM
For Terry, Just an FYI generally those that have suspended or revoked licenses are in those situations because they are repeat traffic offenders i.e. dangerous to be on the road. If the law was enforced, his vehicle would have been impounded.
If the person in question is here illegally, he does not have the priviledge of driving because the almighty government says so. In that case, he should never behind the wheel.
So, not because he was tan. But it an understandable assumption since this ...more
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Mar 30, 09 4:43 PM
Ridiculous, FWIW, the comments on this thread started by referrring to an "unlicensed" driver. Not "revoked" or "suspended"
Now, please tell me how, by visual observation, an "unlicensed" driver should be stopped by the police?
Even the cameras mounted on SOME PD units scan only for the revocation or suspension of the plate or registered owner.
The topic here changed from the point of the story to illegals, to a gent who doesn't realize that a portion of his property taxes are specific ...more
By Terry (380), Southampton on Mar 30, 09 8:00 PM