Republican Suffolk County lawmakers are calling for federal oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department after the recently retired chief of department was accused beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up.
The county legislators also called for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to expand his search for a new police commissioner and questioned the wisdom of nominating Timothy Sini, a former federal prosecutor who most recently served as a deputy county executive, to replace Ed Webber, the retiring police commissioner.
“How can anyone today say that we don’t need outside assistance?” asked Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk County police detective who said he was “shocked at how bad it is, the culture of corruption.”
Trotta made the announcement Tuesday during a news conference in reaction to the news Friday that ex-chief James Burke was denied bail after pleading not guilty to violating a suspect’s civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Trotta was flanked by fellow Republican legislators, including Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the legislature’s GOP minority leader, who recently won re-election over Sini, who was since named deputy Suffolk police commissioner.
Both lawmakers said that Sini might be the right person to be the county’s next top cop, but now is not the time for politically connected promotions.
“Suffolk County is under a dark cloud of suspicion and this is unacceptable,” said McCaffrey. “Now, an inexperienced individual is being considered to the top post in the department. We need someone qualified. This is no time for on-the-job training.”
“Political connections should not determine how an investigation goes or who the police commissioner is,” agreed Trotta.
Justin Meyers, a Bellone spokesman, called the press conference “a political, partisan attack” and defended Sini.
“He has the local law enforcement knowledge,” Meyers said. “He brought in John Barry, the lead investigator on the Sheldon Silver case, to be the Deputy Chief of Department. He brought in Stu Cameron with his 30 years of law enforcement experience to be Chief of Department. He’s already reached out to the FBI on the Gilgo Beach murders. Tim hit the ground running.”
As for the call for federal oversight, Trotta noted that most cops are “moral, hardworking individuals,” but Burke’s arrest has tainted the department. He and McCaffrey cited comments made by U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler when Wexler denied bail for Burke on the grounds that he is a danger to the community. The judge had said: “The corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking.”
The call for a federal monitor came two years after the U.S. Department of Justice settled a probe into allegations that the police department turned a blind eye to hate crimes before one left an immigrant dead.