Following the June 17 stabbing of 39-year-old Benjamin Flores-Mendez — who was found dead in Port Jefferson Station on the Greenway Trail — the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association called an emergency meeting this week to demand answers on a variety of issues from local representatives.
On Tuesday, July 6, nearly 150 people attended the meeting at Comsewogue High School. Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct officers joined elected officials from town, county and state offices to listen to topics such as the Lawrence Aviation space, homelessness, gangs and drug abuse which were brought up by concerned residents.
While the stabbing sparked the meeting, SCPD officials were unable to give details or answer questions surrounding the death, as it’s still an ongoing investigation.
But that didn’t stop Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) from joining the panel. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) could not attend, but a representative joined in his place.
“I’m going to tell you that myself and my colleagues from the Town Board are upset, disturbed by what we see is a growing problem in various communities in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “And that is homelessness.”
According to residents, they have seen homeless people set up tents near the vacant and decrepit Lawrence Aviation buildings located adjacent to the Greenway on the Port Jefferson Station section.
Kornreich added that those who are homeless aren’t necessarily in that plight because of a financial issue — oftentimes it revolves around mental health problems or drug abuse.
“I think that what we need to try to do is to find a way, a compassionate way, to get these people the services that they need, that maybe they’re reluctant to take,” he said, adding it might require a greater investment in services from county agencies.
Englebright, who spearheaded the creation of the trail years ago, said the Lawrence Aviation project has been an issue for years and requires coordination from all levels of government.
“We’re in a moment of turmoil, not only locally but nationally,” he said. “We’re coming off of one of the worst years in the last 100 years because of the COVID infection that has ravaged our communities, and everybody is on edge — that includes disadvantaged individuals, and those who have ill intent. So, we have our work cut out for us.”
During the community forum, questions of hiking trails being linked to crime came up.
“The simple answer is no, there is no correlation, no cause and effect,” Englebright said. “Trails such as this are open space, and so they become targets to the opportunists.”
On the town level, Kornreich assured that meetings like this — between residents and local government — are what allows things to change.
“We’re all here because we have to renew our commitment to work together at all levels of government to face challenges like the ones we have in Port Jefferson Station,” he said.
The 6th Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Patrick Reilly, gave an update on crime statistics. In wake of the stabbing, new cameras were placed at the entrances and along the Greenway Trail. Reilly said more patrol officers have been out during the daytime and evening, as well as overnight. Plainclothes officers and the SCPD gang unit are on-site, as well.
The stabbing that happened last month was the only one in 2021 and 2020, Reilly said. Robberies are down this year, as well as a 100% decrease in aggravated assault.
“Overall, total violent crime is down 11.1%, total property crime is down 4.8%,” he said. “So, obviously, there are problems that still need to be addressed, and we will continue to do that.”
The next normally scheduled civic meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Comsewogue Public Library.