Southampton Town Police Extend a Hand

Southampton hopes civilian academy will bridge gap

The Southampton Town Police Department, working in conjunction with OLA, the Organizacion Latino-Americana of Long Island, is bringing back its civilian police academy next spring, in large part to improve relations and communication between the police and the Latino community. The idea came to the forefront during the recent search for a new chief to replace Robert Pearce, who retired last month.

Lt. Susan Ralph, the department’s public information officer, was among those interviewed for the chief’s job. Minerva Perez of OLA was on the committee. During her interview, Lieutenant Ralph suggested resuming the 12-week program, which was discontinued several years ago, she said, when money was in short supply.

The committee eventually chose Steven E. Skrynecki, Nassau County’s current chief, for the job, but Lieutenant Ralph’s suggestion struck a chord. “It’s really important,” Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said yesterday. He cited the investigation earlier this year into the death of Lilia Aucapina of Sagaponack, which was ruled a suicide, a determination that was questioned by several family members as well as many in the Latino community.

The supervisor had police bring him the evidence they relied on to draw their conclusion. “I never doubted the police did an excellent job,” he said, but it became clear that there was a disconnect between the force and the Latino community, and that it had to be bridged.

The civilian police academy program, one three-hour class each week, will begin in March. It is designed to familiarize the Latino community with police training and methods and to improve police communication with the community. “Actions like these give more information to both sides,” Ms. Perez said.

“I’m already getting great responses,” she added, saying she has begun reaching out to people of different ages and professions.

The program could also be a first step to recruit potential Latino officers, Lieutenant Ralph said, a goal that Mr. Schneiderman also embraces. “We have a large Latino population,” he said. “In Hampton Bays, kindergarten and first grade are more than 50 percent Latino.”

Lieutenant Ralph called the program “hands-on training . . . how to do a car stop, defensive tactics of the Suffolk County police.” Some classes will put students into interactive sessions; for example in a dark hallway or in a sudden confrontation with a highly intoxicated subject. The student’s reactions will shape the narrative.

Police will begin accepting applications in December and participants will be selected in January. There will be a minimal background check, required because the classes will be held inside police headquarters in Hampton Bays. “Latino members of Southampton Town are eager to contribute to a positive dialogue with law enforcement, and this training will allow the insight and perspective needed,” Ms. Perez said.

“We want the public to understand our jobs. What goes on behind the scene. An in-depth look at what we do daily,” Lieutenant Ralph said.

Ms. Perez will also lead a diversity training program for police officers beginning early next year. “I look forward to interacting in this capacity with our Police Department again,” she said. “The domestic violence training that I did a couple of years ago was a great experience.” Ms. Perez served for six years as the executive director of the Retreat, the East End organization that assists victims of domestic violence.

Those interested in the civilian academy program can call Lieutenant Ralph’s office, 631-702-2247, or email her at sralph@southamptontownny.gov. They can also contact OLA at 631-899-3441.