Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco impaneled Thursday a half a dozen volunteers to form a new Citizen’s Advisory Board that he hopes will improve relations between his agency and the public.
The board—which includes mental-health experts, members of the clergy and an ex-cop—will hold regular meetings to solicit community input, increase transparency and act as a sounding board for the sheriff, DeMarco said. He described the panel as the first of its kind in the county.
“It’s not just about the jail, it’s about the whole sheriff’s office,” DeMarco told the Press. “I’m looking to get together and have a thorough review of all our policies, procedures, the way that we handle complaints, the way that we operate in the community.”
Aside from jailing inmates awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than a year at correctional centers in Riverhead and Yaphank, the sheriff’s office also enforces civil court orders such as evictions and administers pistol licenses for the five East End towns—in addition to law enforcement duties parallel to police.
DeMarco created the board shortly after inmate advocates sued neighboring Nassau County, where a judge ordered officials to appoint members of that county’s jail Board of Visitors, which has the power to investigate inmate grievances. That panel had been vacant 23 years since it was written into law.
The Suffolk sheriff, a Conservative who was re-elected to his third term in November, said he hopes his advisory board will help restore the public’s trust following a string of recent news stories detailing scandals in the ranks of local law enforcement agencies.
He said it was not in response to recent high-profile lawsuits alleging abuses against inmates by a few of the 850 corrections officers, 250 deputy sheriffs and 142 civilians in his command.
“You get the feeling that people are really questioning to process of how things are done in law enforcement,” DeMarco said. “There’s been a lot of scrutiny of how things are done in Suffolk County. You don’t want the public to lose confidence in law enforcement.”
The members of Suffok’s board, who are all unpaid volunteers, will decide themselves how frequently they meet after their first meeting slated for early next month.
They include: Rev. Charles Cloverdale, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Riverhead who ministers to inmates at the jail; Father Francis Pizzarelli, a licensed clinical social worker and director of nonprofit Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson; Barrie Jacobsen, a Miller Place-based psychotherapist; Jaime Marcos, an attorney with the law firm Marcos & Negron, LLP; Daniel Wild, a retired New York City police officer; and Robert Lloyd, executive director of the nonprofit anti-pornography group Long Island Citizens for Community Values.