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Mar 31, 2010 11:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town looks to confer authority of peace officers on code officers

Mar 31, 2010 11:44 AM

Southampton Town Chief Investigator David Betts wants his staff to undergo additional training to become peace officers, which would give them the power to make arrests, conduct some types of searches without warrants, and make sure citizens are abiding by sections of the town code they can’t currently enforce, and town officials are taking steps to make it happen.

The extra authority will allow them to investigate more violations and would prevent them from needing backup from police officers and town fire marshals, who are peace officers, in certain situations, he explained.

The Town Board is seeking permission from Governor David Paterson and the New York State Assembly to convert the code enforcement officers into peace officers as soon as possible. The first step will be for State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle to draft bills and get them approved in their respective chambers. If that happens, the measure would go to the governor for approval. That process will take at least a few months, said Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who proposed the changes last week.

With approval, the town will send the code enforcement staff to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department for 35 hours of training necessary to become peace officers.

Mr. Betts emphasized that his staff will not be given firearms if they get peace officer status. According to state criminal procedure, a peace officer may carry a firearm only if he or she has a license for one and has completed training to do so. Ms. Betts said that is not a route he is “interested” in pursuing.

The town’s Code Enforcement Department, which became a unit of the town attorney’s office during this year’s reorganization, investigates violations of the town code, including derelict properties, or those covered in litter or debris, overcrowded housing, parking and noise complaints and violations of the rental permit law. Previously, code enforcement operated under the Public Safety Department, which was led by Cheryl Kraft, the chief fire marshal.

Right now, Mr. Betts’s staff cannot fully enforce certain sections of the town code, such as the portions governing taxicabs and truck exclusion areas, which are streets on which big trucks are not allowed to drive, he explained. Mr. Betts said he and his staff do not have the authority to ask for driver’s licenses, a power that would be useful when they are investigating either of aforementioned sections of the code.

“We’re not able to make the inquiries we would like to make, that’s what it boils down to,” Mr. Betts said.

Mr. Betts, a former Southampton Village Police officer, explained that he and his staff, with the peace officer status, would be able to issue appearance tickets for more infractions than they can now and can conduct warrantless searches.

He presented an example that shows how the additional authority would help: If someone dumps a refrigerator on the side of the road with the door on, a violation of state penal code, code enforcement can only ask the owner of the appliance to remove the door. Mr. Betts’s staff cannot write an appearance ticket for the violation, and must call the police department or fire marshals to do so. As peace officers, they would be able to issue the appearance ticket, he explained. He noted that it is illegal to keep a door on a refrigerator because a child could get trapped inside.

An example of a warrantless search the officers might conduct, Mr. Betts said, would be one done when he and his crew would be inspecting a line of taxicabs— in front of a club for example, to ensure that all the vehicles and their drivers had the necessary permits— and the officers saw something suspicious in one of the cars. “We can’t do it now,” Mr. Betts said.

Having peace officer status would allow for better utilization of the town’s resources, Ms. Graboski explained. According to a press release, the peace officer status would be granted to five people: Mr. Betts, the town investigator, an ordinance enforcement officer, an ordinance inspector and a noise control officer.

“This will enable us to be able to use the personnel that we have more to our advantage,” Ms. Graboski said, explaining that without the status, the town may need to call fire marshals in to help code enforcement.

Mr. Thiele said Governor Paterson has expressed opposition to making code enforcement officers peace officers because training for them is not uniform across the state. But concerns about training should not factor into the Southampton Town case because Long Island code enforcement is very well trained, he said.

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A few questions come to mind.

Are these code enforcement officers members of a union, or the PBA? Will making them peace officers result in membership in the PBA or a similar union? Will their salaries go up, and will this move make them more efficient in keeping with any salary increases?

The next logical step will be to arm them with sidearms, which will raise similar questions down the road IMO, especially if the PBA gets involved and wants pay comparable to regular armed law ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 31, 10 12:12 PM
2 members liked this comment
Your questions don't make sense to me. As far as the question of salary raises...how would you like the job of entering some of these homes with 20-30plus illegal aliens who know they are here illegal and have done other illegal acts in this country...United States.(In case anyone forgets...we ARE NOT a North American Union.)
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 31, 10 5:11 PM
actually, this is a North American Union: We've got NAFTA, and we've got un-enforced immigration laws, so, sorry, but Mexico has pretty much merged with us
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 1, 10 12:57 AM
No, we are the United States of America. We are in union with the states of America. NAFTA deals with TRADE. Do you believe that humans are part of a business transaction???
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 1, 10 8:25 AM
well, i was partially being sarcastic... no, NAFTA is the trade, and (un)enforced immigration laws are the human part of the transaction.
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 2, 10 8:39 PM
This is a TERRIBLE idea!

Why do we have an expensive Town Police Department?!?

Code Enforcement personnel in the fiekl inspect and report -- how Mr. Betts wants they to take doors, make warrantless searches and conduct arrests? (And without sidearms, that's a risky undertaking!)

Southampton Town is already moving towards a "police state" mentality, and more of "them" is a bad idea!

And the points that PBR raises -- as questions -- reinforce how ill-considered ...more
Mar 31, 10 12:32 PM appended by Frank Wheeler
That should be: "Code Enforcement personnel in the field are there to inspect and report -- now Mr. Betts wants them to take doors, make warrantless searches and conduct arrests?"
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 31, 10 12:32 PM
The entire scheme sounds at best, questionable and at worst, frightening.
Warrant-less Searches? Code Officers making arrests?
Where in the living hell does it end?
And PLEASE don't cite other instances where searches without warrants are an everyday occurrence.

We're talking about Code Violations here. NOT Police.
Mr. Betts should certainly check his ambitions!
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 1:00 PM
2 members liked this comment
In reply to how we are "talking about Code Violations"...need we be reminded time and time again how currently in many of our home-town neighborhoods there have and has been major questionable and frightening illegal aliens living and thriving in drug trafficking. Many of the houses with code violations that Mr.Betts and other code enforcement agents have come many times face to face with. Since just recently the Dept. of Education has bought firearms...I see no problem with Mr.Betts and other ...more
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 31, 10 5:03 PM
Sounds like you should start your own militia .
It's either that or live in morbid fear of those, I think you called them, "frightening illegal aliens".

Look, we have a highly trained and professional Police Dept in addition to Suffolk County Officers, Sheriffs and the State Police. They specialize in dealing with illegal activity. I see no need for Code Enforcement to do the job of the Police. As an aside, I wonder what the PBA has to say about this issue!
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 6:32 PM
Who is specialized in dealing with illegal aliens in Suffolk County?
If you know them tell them they can start at evey 7-11
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 9:54 PM
Elliot, you were the one to bring up the term "frightening" in regards to code enforcement....so I just put the real truth in print. There are illegal aliens that code enforcement run into and they are frightening because they are breaking not just local code housing issues, but they are here illegal running from harsh-crimes from their countries of origin. Stop debateing on an issue that time and time again you paint the police and other law abiding citizens as frightening...look at Mexico...the ...more
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 1, 10 8:33 AM
OK. The laugh's on me :)

I just noticed at the bottom of the article it reads, "To read the entire article, pick up the the Apr 1 issue of The Southampton Press."

Apparently this article is a poor attempt at an April Fool's Joke, right?
Please tell me I'm right. Please!
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 1:12 PM
My gut response is that this sounds like a terrible idea. Doing this would place entirely too much power in the hands of code enforcement officers, not to mention that an additional 35 hours of training sounds like an extremely insufficient amount of time. I think those on the right and left (for different reasons) will agree that this would be an unwelcome intrusion.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Mar 31, 10 1:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
PBR raises a good point. New York City Probabtion Officers, who have peace officer status, for years have claimed because of this they should be considered on a par with police officers(higher pay, bigger pension). Same for detective investigators attached to the DA offices(although many of these are retired police officers).. There are even guards in the Cities watershed system who have this same status and make similar claims.
Its a thin line here - NYC probation officers do not carry guns ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 2:14 PM
Why not just move Code Enf. to the PD and make the CEO's police officers???
By Globie359 (2), Shelbyville on Mar 31, 10 2:14 PM
Stupid idea, more Town liability...if they need the police in the performance of their duties, call them.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 4:59 PM
Reminder----Levy says we don't need anymore police officers. So, now this Really seems like a great idea. It will save both time and money. As stated before...you can't have freedom both ways...you take from some and give to others. With freedom there is Responsibility...you want to take care of everyone...money doesn't grow on trees...you want to be safe in society...you have to have some laws that will protect everyone...not just the few.
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 31, 10 5:20 PM
"With freedom there is Responsibility...you want to take care of everyone...money doesn't grow on trees...you want to be safe in society...you have to have some laws that will protect everyone...not just the few."

With all due respect, US Citizen, what the HELL are you talking about???
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 6:34 PM
Elliot, again...as with your term "freightening"...Responsibility and (you obviously forgot the main point of my statement) FREEDOM....you do not understand. So I suggest you get Webster's ENGLISH Dictionary and start looking up the terminolgy....(the system of terms used in a particular subject...the science of the proper use of terms.)
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 1, 10 8:41 AM
Sometimes these comment sections are really like going down the rabbit hole!

"Frightening" is not my term. It is YOUR term. I copied and pasted your very own quote and replied to it.
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Apr 1, 10 10:52 AM
frightening was the term YOU used...as in March 31,10 1:p.m...."The entire scheme sounds at best, questionable and at worst, frightening"...In context you were refering to Code Enforcement being frightening. In truth and in context it is not code enforcement that is frightening....they are protecting people from deplorable living conditions and at times go into houses harboring illegal aliens that are freightening due to the fact that they are here in the country illegal and running from their countries ...more
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 1, 10 11:53 AM
I'm guessing that no one here has any idea what code enforcement officers deal with on a day to day basis. Everyone automatically zeros in on the problems with over crowding by illegal aliens. Yes it is a problem, but then so is the over crowding that takes place every summer with house shares. I guess I'm as curious as everyone else to know why the change to peace officers is needed. I am also concerned about being able to search without a warrant? Ummmm if Police officers need to obtain a warrant ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Apr 1, 10 11:54 AM
Yes I do I have done it in one fashion or another for 20yrs. Code Enf. as a division of a PD or SO works fine when warranted. Your community dictates the need.

To the fear of warrant less searches, they are not legal in the context of the discussion here.
By Globie359 (2), Shelbyville on Apr 2, 10 10:11 AM
pstevens-the comparison is "not even close". The difference between a summer rental is that you have a group of people here to vacation. The illegal housing and harboring of people stuffed into a house on a year-round basis and putting garbage and overflowing cesspools into neighborhoods where children go to school and family members work year-round in what they need as a stable-crime free environment...does nothing for the community...Peace officers are needed to combat the use of people as profit. ...more
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 1, 10 12:07 PM
Actually, it sounds like a great idea!! They would NOT be under the PBA just like the fire marshall's are not, who I believe the article states are peace officers. They are in the CSEA.
The problem with code enforcement is they cant enforce the code!! lol. Giving these guys the authority to make a search of residences believed to be overcrowded is exactly what they need. Otherwise, the department is useless. For example, the EH CEO is having problem's proving people are in violations ...more
By YEAROUNDER (81), East Hampton on Apr 1, 10 3:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lets check if they meet the requirements of being code enforcement officers in the first place. The Press has reported on the recent problems in Southampton Village. I hope the problem doesn't exist here as well.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 1, 10 6:39 PM
No problem...the code enforcement in Southampton Town are well educated and a group of caring individuals.
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 2, 10 12:13 PM
From your tone and enthusiastic promotion of this idea, it is glaringly obvious that you have a personal (as opposed to a community-minded) interest in this issue. You are a Code Enforcement Officer yourself or at least closely related to one.
By elliot (254), sag harbor on Apr 2, 10 1:27 PM
ya. I experience nothing but care & love while i stand in line at the Building & zoning office. When i'm there, i just long for a big group hug from all those educated caring people
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 2, 10 8:45 PM
Nicole: Employees of the Building Department and Zoning Board are completely separate from Code Enforcement.

Elliot: You are quick to make assumptions. I have no personal interest or relation in this matter but can tell you the Code Enforcement officers are nothing short of professional and good at their jobs. One thing that is often overlooked is the complexity of their position. They are responsible for enforcing literally every code on the Southampton books. From Housing to Environmental ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 10 8:32 PM
The reality is that Code Enforcement calling on the PD, takes them away from patrols. It would be an added convenience, BUT, you need to limit their authority to a point. Most any cop would not storm a house by her/himself, without backup.
Like the disclaimer says, "Special terms, and conditions may apply".

In regard to the whole illegal immigrant debacle, you know what amendment we need?

Change the rule from being born on American soil for citizenship, and add "birthed child ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 3, 10 12:06 AM
This is a true story, a person purchases a 3 house/cottage in
Amagasett, in the 1980's They rent the house year round to illegal immigrants who, work in the hospitality incudustry.
The owner, receives subsidies, through the Federal HUD program; the illegal renter in turns rents the 3 bedrooms, to like 20 illegal immigrants, all cash. The RENTER makes so much money, they build A home in east hampton.
Meanwhile, the homeower, contuines to rent to illegal immigrants, not considering ...more
By Celtic (7), Amagansett on Apr 3, 10 12:05 PM
2 members liked this comment
This example points not only to the issues of code enforcement, but more directly to lack of East Hampton Housing Authority Section 8 rules enforcement.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Apr 4, 10 11:52 AM
Problem everywhere seems to be a lack of regulation, and enforcement.

Everywhere from Main St. , to Wall St. ...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 4, 10 12:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
great! Lets give em $150,000 a year salaries and plenty of time to work 2 or 3 side jobs as well. You know, since there's so much crime out here
By littleplains (305), olde england on Apr 5, 10 9:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
Bad Idea,
You will end up with a bunch of cowboys violating everyone's rights.
If these C.E.O.s need backup. leave it up to the professionals, The Police..
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Apr 6, 10 12:00 AM
2 members liked this comment
everyone is missing the point the town has gotten to the point of micromanaging our lives we buy our homes pay our taxes and they tell us what we can or can't do on our property the codes have a lot more to do than dealing with illeagal aliens most codes violate our civil liberties as American Citizens
By flabu3 (2), Flanders on Apr 7, 10 7:27 AM
See the editorial in today's Press.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 8, 10 6:44 PM
Peace Keepers? Have to be kidding ,yes? The Code Enforcement Dept. should start by being smart about printing pamphlets, info, precise rules on pertinent issues.Whether its about replacing windows, putting up a fence, or owning 2 horses on an acre of land. Not the interpretation of whomever answers the phone. You can call three times and get three different answers. We taxpayers should have the right to the rules and laws at hand. The info should be mailed to all homeowners yearly along with updated ...more
By gallerygirl (29), southampton on Apr 9, 10 9:54 AM