Riverhead to enforce stricter penalties for 'quality-of-life' crimes in downtown zero-tolerance zone
There will be enhanced penalties for certain crimes in an area around downtown Riverhead known as the zero-tolerance zone.
The measure was unanimously approved by the town board earlier this week.
Some of the offenses that will have stiffer penalties are aggressive panhandling and committing a vulgar act in public.
Offenses like laying down, sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk, going through trash cans and smoking or vaping marijuana or tobacco could result in a $500 fine or 15 days in jail.
Loitering connected to drugs or prostitution could lead to a $2,500 fine or 90 days in jail.
Some advocates say the stricter penalties unfairly impact the town's homeless and poor populations.
"When they talk about quality of life and zero tolerance, whose life are they interested in protecting the quality of?" asks Cindy Clifford, of The Heart of Riverhead Civic Association.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar says it's meant to create a more family-friendly atmosphere.
"We're in the middle of revitalizing economically our downtown, creating a town square and to further enhance and be in line we want the area to become family-friendly," Aguiar says.
Aguiar says any homeless people who are penalized under the new law will be directed to emergency shelters or rehab facilities.
Business owners in downtown Riverhead say the new rule is needed.
"It's just something that has to get rectified to keep people coming back," says Sean Kenna, owner of Cucina 25.
The new resolution, which also expands the size of the zero-tolerance zone, comes after Forbes named Riverhead one of the top 50 places in the world to travel to in 2023.
The zero-tolerance zone now goes along Main Street and from the riverfront to the train tracks.
The measure goes into effect immediately after it's filed with the secretary of state.