Early Saturday morning at Wades Beach, two cars were already in the parking lot with visitors walking toward the sand. Shelter Island Traffic Control Officer Jared Hamilton waited in his police vehicle. It was a sunny morning with clear skies, but the heat was increasing by the moment.
TCO Hamilton, 23, said the heat is one of the most challenging aspects of the job, as he walks the Island’s streets and roads. He’s been working as a traffic control officer here for three years, and knows the Island, having lived here as a child before moving to Center Moriches during his high school years and then coming back.
He decided to go into police work, thanks to his stepmother, who encouraged him to interview for the job as a TCO. He’d always wanted a job in law enforcement — his grandfather is a retired Suffolk County Police Department sergeant — and looks at this job as a stepping stone toward his goal.
His workday starts at 8:45 a.m. when he arrives at Police Department headquarters in the Center. By 9 a.m., he’s on patrol. Throughout the day, TCOs swap positions every hour, using one police vehicle. One officer is always stationed at Bridge Street since it’s a hot spot for accidents in the summer. The TCO’s job is to make sure the traffic keeps moving and nobody double parks on a street that has steep hills and a blind curve.
Another important mission is monitoring all of the town beaches. “It’s important to make sure the beaches are controlled,” TCO Hamilton said. An important duty is controlling the traffic flow at Havens Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
A 30-minute break for lunch and the day is done at 5 p.m.
Sometimes when he gives a ticket to drivers, they complain, he said, but he tries to use some diplomacy with them, saying “it’s not that big a deal,” and that the ticket can “better prepare them for next time,” letting people know they can fight the ticket in court.
One task TCO Hamilton completes every day was not part of the original job description. When he drives on Brander Parkway, he always spots a box turtle trying to cross the road. “It’s like clockwork,” he said, adding he always stops the car and helps the turtle to safety.
Along with daily duties, TCOs are also assigned to special events. TCO Hamilton helped with the recent 10K race last month. It was added work but “a lot of fun,” he said, stationed at the half-way mark of the course as runners flowed past.
One new aspect of his duties that he admitted is taking some getting used to is that now visitors can get day passes for town beaches online. While it may take some time for him and his fellow TCOs to adjust to the new method, he said the benefit to the visitors outweighs any inconvenience.
“Being able to go anywhere in town and having someone recognize you and happy to see you” is rewarding, he said. The TCO also works at Vine Street Café and it’s “fun when people recognize” him.
TCO Hamilton is inspired by his work to become a police officer, here on Shelter Island or somewhere else, such as in another northeastern town or Florida. While he loves the Island, he “loves the job more.”