Tag Archive | "marijuana"

Village Cops Embrace Youth Court

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This past January, four Sag Harbor youths were arrested and charged with making graffiti in the village.

But instead of attending Family Court and going through a routine probationary process, they went to Youth Court, where their cases will be heard not only by a jury of their peers, but by a bench of legal council and even a judge who’s still a teen.

Sag Harbor Village Detective Jeff Proctor said he wasn’t aware Youth Court was an option until an attorney for one of the youths involved in the graffiti incident recommended it.

“This is actually good for us,” he said.  “For many years, there have been crimes committed by 13-, 14- and 15-years olds that aren’t severe enough for Family Court [because they are only violations], but they shouldn’t go unnoticed.  This gives kids some type of consequence for their actions.”

According to Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, this is the first time that a case that’s originated in the village has gone to Youth Court.

He said the police department has tried to make use of the youth court in the past, but the partnership has not always panned out. For one thing, all misdemeanors are first sent to Family Court before they are considered for Youth Court.  And as for violations, for which the department itself can send a child to Youth Court, parental consent is required.

“That’s the part I’ve ben trying to work with the police department on,” said Karen Hurst of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau who runs the Youth Court. She said arrests are quite tricky when it comes to children under the age of 16. In fact, minors cannot technically be charged with violations.

“But, if we get the parents’ consent, then [the kids] can come through the Youth Court,” she continued. “For example, if they have marijuana”—possession of marijuana is a violation—“an officer can say: We have this program available. That way, the kids are still being held accountable.”

Previously, Fabiano said juveniles arrested in Sag Harbor, ended up being sent to probation through Family Court Intake in Riverhead.  But, the department is making more of a concerted effort to utilize the teen court system.

“I hear a lot of good things about your court, because kids are judging other kids,” Fabiano said. “And they’re learning how the judicial system works.”

The Youth Court combines a range of participants stretching from Westhampton

“Youth Court is not mock trial,” Hurst explained. “The kids are looking at actual court cases.”

The way it works is there are kids who are involved in learning how the court system functions, and then there are youths who have committed a crime—either a violation or a minor misdemeanor (like making graffiti)—whose cases can be brought to Youth Court.

The kids who are participating in the Youth Court educational program take a 12-week training course with attorney Kevin Gilvary, through which they learn about the judicial system by reviewing actual court cases, and ultimately participating in Youth Court trials. Three students each will play the roles of prosecution and defense attorneys, and one student will even act as the judge presiding over the court proceedings.

To prepare for trial, Hust said the kids study different cases, practice their own depositions and even learn how to present opening and closing arguments. They even study different ways of administering consequences for certain actions.

“They have a lot of freedom with it,” she explained. Previous “sentences” have involved volunteer work, writing and art projects that benefit the community.

“They take it very, very seriously because they know it’s one of their peers sitting there,” Hurst commented.  “These are real cases, we’re working with real kids’ lives,” she continued. “I stress that to the kids all the time: If you were the one sitting in the respondents’ chair, how would you want your attorney to be acting?”

Some Say “No” To Drug-Sniffing Dogs

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By Claire Walla


For some parents and community members, measures the Sag Harbor School District is taking to combat the use of drugs and alcohol among students is aggressive — too aggressive.

“Do we want our middle and high school building to mimic a prison?” parent Marianna Levine asked school board members at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

Levine said she shared her perspective with several other parents of children in the Sag Harbor School District who strongly oppose the use of drug-sniffing dogs on campus. She argues that bringing in a police K-9 unit would essentially create a dynamic similar to a “totalitarian state” where students are stripped of their rights.

Community member Leah Oppenheimer also expressed her concerns with bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus.

“I’m really worried about the link of trust between the children and [the administration],” she said. “Dogs don’t have a good reputation. They really signify something scary, even if the intent behind it is good.”

Elementary school parent Lawrence LaRose agreed.

“This is going to erode the bond that this school has with its students,” he said.

And by forcing all students to stay in classrooms during a sniff search based on evidence that some students have been found in possession of drugs, LaRose further contended, “You’re putting that suspicion on all students.”

Levine took particular issue with the notion that the school would go into what it called a “lock-down” scenario at the time of the so-called drug sniff.

“That’s a prison term,” she said.

During the course of the meeting, several board members expressed a keen interest in changing the terminology for the school’s lock-down procedure so that it would be referred to as a “safety check” instead, as Levine suggested.

However, Dr. John Gratto, the district’s superintendent, said the board disagreed with some of Levine’s comments.

“We certainly don’t think you’re correct in saying it would engender a police state,” he stated. “We have, as a basic philosophy, a desire to build relationships with students. Some of you have characterized this as an either/or issue; I don’t think it is. We’ll still continue to build relationships with students, [drug-sniffing dogs] are just another deterrent to keep kids free of drugs and alcohol.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller added, “Where this conversation came from and why we got here today was never about putative measures.”

She said that based on survey results conducted by an organization called OASIS, the board has determined that the use of drugs and alcohol among students needs to decrease.

“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” she continued. “This is something that’s always on the table here.”

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols added to that by explaining he is currently working to finalize a community coalition to prevent substance abuse. It’s made up of people from 12 different constituents from the community, including parents, teachers, police officers, doctors and even students.

“The goal of the coalition would be to look at what we’re doing comprehensively to lessen the likelihood that students would engage in drugs and drinking,” Nichols said. “Hopefully, we can address this in a way that involves different parts of the community to get different perspectives on the issue.”

Levine said she was pleased to hear that the school would be working to counsel students who may be found in possession of drugs as a consequence of drug-sniffing dogs on campus, and encouraged by the start of the coalition Nichols is putting together.

“I do appreciate that they’ve started the conversation on this,” she said. “And I have some hope that maybe the community coalition will come up with some better counseling solutions.”

However, she said she is still adamantly opposed to having drug-sniffing police units on campus.

“I just believe that the energy they’ve put into the dogs can be better spent looking into counseling programs,” she said.

“I think alcohol is the big problem at the school,” she continued. “And I don’t think the dogs are going to help with that.”

Detective Makes a Visit to Pierson Middle School

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Proctor adjusted

By Claire Walla


Sag Harbor Village Police Detective Jeff Proctor made his way to the Pierson Middle/High School campus last Thursday, January 2 where he proceeded to Mrs. Duff’s second-floor classroom and stood face-to-face with 16 middle school students.

He wasn’t there to make an arrest, or investigate a case; he was there to educate the students on the consequences of their actions. From graffiti and trespassing to possession of marijuana, Det. Proctor discussed the legal ramifications for such crimes. And he explained how the justice system works.

Misdemeanors (like making graffiti) are punishable by up to one year in jail, he said, while felonies (like dealing drugs) are punishable by more than one year in prison.

“And there is a difference between jail and prison,” Det. Proctor cautioned, pointing out that the Riverhead Jail holds less extreme offenders than New York State prisons do.

The students commented sporadically on Det. Proctor’s presentation, offering up definitions for key phrases, like “peer” and “consequence” when asked to do so. And, after estimating that roughly 15 percent of their class probably smokes pot, they discussed the downsides to marijuana use. (Such suggested drawbacks included: “it affects how you act,” “you can get suspended,” “it makes you feel depressed,” “memory loss,” and “it’s expensive.”)

Finally, a student in the front row pepped up and questioned the detective about the examples he had been using throughout his presentation to illustrate his points, like the circumstance he described involving kids trespassing and spray-painting an abandoned building in the village.

“Where are you getting all these examples from?” the student asked.

“Where do you think?” Det. Proctor answered right back. “It happened!”

Board Looks at Logistics of Bringing in Drug-Sniffing

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Heller_SCPD at Sag School Board Mtg 1-23-12_0241

By Claire Walla


Inspector Stuart Cameron held all the attention in the room. Standing straight and tall in a navy blue uniform adorned with a bright badge, which stood out against the rows of young adult novels that are usually the focal point in the Pierson Middle/High School library, Cameron faced the Sag Harbor Board of Education and proceeded to talk about drug-sniffing dogs.

As commander of the Suffolk County Police Department’s special control bureau, Cameron said he recently initiated the effort to bring drug-sniffing dogs into schools across Suffolk County. The Suffolk County K-9 unit has to date visited seven different school districts, two of them this year, he said, although “neither resulted in an arrest.”

Cameron was asked to give a presentation on the Suffolk County K-9 unit at Monday’s school board meeting, January 23, in anticipation of the Sag Harbor School District taking proactive measures to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the middle/high school campus sometime this year.

Cameron explained that the police dogs are trained to detect several illegal substances, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and crack.

“Because of the insurgence of heroin [in Suffolk County], we thought it would be appropriate to use them in schools,” he said of the dogs.

School board members note that heroine is not part of the problem they’ve noticed at Pierson, but marijuana is.

Cameron continued by explaining how the drug-sniffing procedure would work.

“We came up with a program that’s very conservative,” he began.

Working in conjunction with Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, who will be the local law enforcement liaison, Suffolk County police would conduct a “non-targeted sniff,” as opposed to a full-blown search. In the instance of such a “sniff,” Cameron said, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols would be asked to identify a general area where there are student lockers, which the K-9 unit would explore.

Cameron asked that the administrators also identify the beginning of a class period when the dogs could be brought on campus. In this way, all students would be asked to remain in their classrooms during the course of the “sniff.” The procedure, as it’s currently laid out, would prevent dogs from actively sniffing-out any drugs potentially located in classrooms — either in students’ backpacks or carried on their person.

“At this time, [the program] is solely geared toward lockers and school facilities,” Cameron said. “Our goal is to provide a service, not to interfere with school operations.”

Also, before Suffolk County Police would bring dogs onto the Pierson campus, Cameron said he would require the district to send a letter to all parents that explains the drug-sniffing procedure, as well as the district’s policy on the matter. Included in this letter would be legal explanations of what a “sniff” fully entails, as well as a clear explanation of the district’s regulation over student lockers.

According to Cameron, “the scope of the letter [sent to parents] should include the fact that the school owns all locks and lockers, and that lockers can be subject to search without advanced knowledge.”

It should also be made clear, he said, that students are not permitted to share their lockers with other students, because ultimately “they are solely responsible for whatever’s inside.”

When asked whether he felt teachers would have enough knowledge of police procedures before a potential “sniff” were to take place, Nichols explained that all teachers have already been trained in how to conduct their classrooms during lock-down — and this scenario would not be much different.

According to Dr. Gratto, at the start of the class period during which the dogs will be brought on campus, Nichols would get on the P.A. system and require that everyone stay in classrooms until further notice.

“The announcement that would be made is that we’re going into lock-down,” Nichols added.

In the end, Dr. Gratto noted, this would be a precautionary measure meant to deter students from bringing illegal substances on campus. But, should any student be found to be in possession of any drugs, he said the school would first report the incident to police. (Chief Fabiano would be on-hand to make any potential arrests.)

“But, our interest is in having a save environment,” Dr. Gratto continued. “That student would be strongly encouraged to attend counseling. That would be a major component of what we do.”

Sag Harbor School Board members unanimously approved the first reading of the school’s new policy on drug-sniffing dogs. The second and final reading will be on February 9.