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May 16, 2012 10:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Chief Wilson Marks A Tumultuous 12 Months

May 16, 2012 12:11 PM

Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson marked his 27th anniversary as a policeman on Tuesday. The day also, coincidentally, marked the first anniversary of his tenure as chief of the Town Police Department.

Neither milestone likely was met with much levity. It’s been three weeks since Chief Wilson recommended the suspension of one of the department’s most senior officers. The chief has been tendered, by his own account, two offers in recent months from town officials to quit his post. Last week, the chief filed an ethics complaint against two of his bosses. And, a few days later, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office seized a storage room full of police internal investigation and personnel files—with the chief’s full support. The eventful few weeks was topped off by allegations from outside the town that the department he inherited a year ago was for years widely distrusted by other law enforcement agencies across the Island.

These are not quiet days for the town’s top cop.

“It’s been a challenging year,” Chief Wilson said in an interview in his office at the Town Police headquarters on Monday. “It’s been a learning process. There are obviously some challenges that I’ve faced that I wish I didn’t have to.”

One of the most tumultuous weeks of his career included, in a seven-day period, the suspension of Lieutenant James Kiernan after the chief filed more than 30 disciplinary charges against him; the filing of the ethics complaint against Town Board members Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera for not recusing themselves from consideration

of Mr. Kiernan’s suspension, since he also serves as a Republican committeeman; and the seizure of the police personnel files by the DA’s office. Reflecting on the developments, Chief Wilson acknowledged that the department is going through a painful “rough patch” as he continues his now year-old effort to complete what he said is a much needed overhaul of its approach to policing the town, and its internal culture.

There have been few cloud-free days during his 52-week reign. Chief Wilson entered the department amid a swirl of controversy. Then the chief of the Southampton Village Police Department, he was chosen by the Town Board in May 2011 to succeed retiring Chief James Overton over the department’s longtime second in command, Captain Anthony Tenaglia.

Just 72 hours before he moved into his office, Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer ordered that all of the department’s personnel files be removed from department headquarters and put under lock and key at Town Hall, after still unsubstantiated allegations that files were being removed and shredded.

In his first months, the chief got off to a somewhat rocky start, clashing with some Town Board members over a $700,000 overhaul of the department’s communications systems that he said, and still maintains, is critical to the department’s efficient operation. There also was the retirement of several veteran officers—Captain Tenaglia included—and longtime administrators that left the department urgently shorthanded, the chief said.

Then, in the fall, a review of the department’s budget revealed that it was on pace to be nearly $1 million over budget on its overtime pay allowance—an unavoidable circumstance in the wake of staffing losses and the emergency response to Hurricane Irene, the chief claims.

“I had anticipated having a little more significant impact immediately,” he said on Tuesday. “But for financial reasons, I haven’t been able to do that. The technology project was a big piece of that. Personnel-wise, I came into a staff of 96, and now we’re down to 87. At that level of staffing, we can’t continue to operate.”

He said he could almost guarantee that the department will overrun its overtime budget again in 2012 if there is not an increase in the number of available officers. The embattled chief said the technology upgrades and getting staff back up to previous levels are among his top priorities.

If more immediate issues do not assert themselves, that is.

The chief would not discuss Lt. Kiernan’s suspension specifically or the nature of charges he filed. But he said that the suspension stemmed from what he said was a needed change in the culture of oversight in the department.

“Employee issues are never pleasant, but you have to deal with them,” he said, nodding to a similar situation he found himself in after taking over the Southampton Village Police Department in 2006, also a tumultuous time. “A police department is like any other workplace—you are going to have employee issues. You have two choices: You either ignore them, or you tackle them. I can’t ignore them, because they won’t go away. Unfortunately, I’m getting the tag of ‘reformer.’ It is not a role I’m looking to take on—it’s just timing.”

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Poor Bill...26 years being a cop, and one year with the circus.
By c'mon now (46), southampton on May 16, 12 9:28 PM
Its been a circus for the last 30 years with the Ringleaders Overton and Tenaglia, Wilson seems to have inherited a mess with the Town Police but he's forging ahead for the sake of the Town and its employees by uncovering the old dealing....
By mrobin (121), North Sea on May 16, 12 9:51 PM
I do not know. I have a lot of respect for our police. Bill Wilson has a lot more knowledge on how to run a police dept. than the town board. I am an avid scanner listener. Our police do a very professional job, along with our EMS and Fire Depts. When the gentlemen drove into the canal this past winter, if you were listening in on a scanner, you would have been amazed how quickly they had mobilized. And the smart decisions that were made by the police...on being keeping the locks closed while ...more
By c'mon now (46), southampton on May 17, 12 5:35 PM
actually no decision was made to "keep the locks closed" as this is not possible. The gates open when the water pressure on the north side reaches a certain point as the tide rises.
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on May 18, 12 6:13 AM
Not true. Their is always a person in the "lock house". Yes, the west section of locks are timed. I know what I was listening to that day. A lady cop at the canal, had made that call to the police dispatch.
I have also listened and seen...when the Shinnecock Coast Guard has to do an emergency call and head northbound thru the canal. They will call ahead and have both locks on east side held open so they can fly thru .
By c'mon now (46), southampton on May 18, 12 8:58 PM
Chief looks and acts like a leader and add a Sharp Uniform
By MACDADDY (49), SOUTHAMPTON on May 17, 12 6:06 PM
Keep fighting the good fight Chief Wlson. The people of this town deserve the very best from its Police Force and I applaud your efforts!
By blbandit (21), Southampton on May 17, 12 9:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
Good luck Chief ... !
By AndersEn (174), Southampton on May 17, 12 10:07 PM
Congratulations Chief Wilson. I hope that you stay as long as you need to clean up the Town. I'm glad that we have a chief that is willing to go after the bad guys within the police department and Town Hall. I can't wait to see the fallout. Don't let the "powers that be" try and force you out. It just means that you are getting too close to their skeletons.
By bobalooey (45), East Quogue on May 19, 12 4:06 PM
2 members liked this comment