By Anthony Frasca
In a ceremony this past January at the Van Nostrand Theater on the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) swore in Errol Toulon Jr. (D-Lake Grove) as the 67th Suffolk County sheriff.
Toulon, whose father is a retired Rikers Island warden, spent many years as a Rikers Island corrections officer and went on to become an aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). In that position, Toulon supervised numerous public safety departments including fire, rescue and emergency services.
Ralph Grasso has spent 31 years in law enforcement and is a close personal friend of Toulon. Grasso said he met Toulon at their children’s soccer game 27 years ago, and they struck up a conversation that led to a long-term friendship.
“He was in corrections, and I was an NYPD police officer,” Grasso said. “We hit it off and became friends. He is the godfather of my daughter.”
He said he knew Toulon would excel when it came to being sheriff.
“Knowing him, and how he perseveres through just about anything, I knew he would take this role and take it above and beyond,” Grasso said. “We speak a lot on the issues that correlate from the city to where I am now in the waterfront commission and the surrounding areas. He’s cognizant of everything that goes on, especially the gang issue.”
First Undersheriff Steve Kuehhas said Toulon can often be found out in the communities and the schools throughout Suffolk County with an outreach program he established.
“He dedicates at least two days a week to go to schools to talk about vaping, bullying and gangs,” Kuehhas said. “He goes himself and speaks to the younger ones in the middle schools.”
The undersheriff said Toulon also increased the number of officers in the county’s gang resistance program, where officers spend time with middle school students for a whole semester.
“It serves a lot of purposes,” Kuehhas said. “One is students are no longer apprehensive when they see a uniformed officer because some of them grow up with a negative connotation of a uniformed officer. But when they are in the schools every day, they see that the officers are just like their dads, and they are teachers and many times kids confide in the officers when they get to know them about things we can actually investigate or to help them.”
‘His mind is always racing. He’s always wanting to better the sheriff’s office. It’s really pleasant to know that he’s trying to better your agency.’
Grasso said Toulon has placed the best of the best in the office and has taken on the role of sheriff head on.
“He’s a rare breed where he actually looks at the outside people and what they have to deal with,” Grasso said.
With a goal of improving the mission of the sheriff’s office, Toulon has looked to uncover talents already existing within the department.
“What Sheriff Toulon has done is increased some of the specialized units within the sheriff’s office on both corrections and deputies,” Kuehhas said. “He is also very attuned to education. He’s actively looking for officers with backgrounds in certain areas or specialties like analytics or education.”
Toulon’s approach to the sheriff’s office has been to engage actively and do what it takes to improve morale too.
“He’s nonstop,” Kuehhas said. “His mind is always racing. He’s always wanting to better the sheriff’s office. It’s really pleasant to know that he’s trying to better your agency.”
Kuehhas added that Toulon is always among the officers in the jails and stops in on holidays with Kuehhas and Undersheriff Kevin Catalina.
On a personal note, Sheriff Toulon is a two-time cancer survivor, and his battles with cancer have inspired him to continue his mission to help others.
“He’s an avid hockey player and a Penguins fan,” Grasso said. “He actually wears the number 66 because he also had Hodgkin’s disease along with Mario Lemieux from the Penguins.”