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Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks about new police cameras at each of the seven precincts during a press conference in Greenlawn. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Be careful what actions you take, because the police are watching.

Suffolk County Police Department officials announced the implementation of 12 overt surveillance cameras throughout the county July 10, in an effort to deter crime.

The pilot program began in October 2016 with the implementation of a single camera in both the 1st and 2nd precincts. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that cameras were installed in the five other precincts early June.

Two of these cameras were positioned in Huntington Town, with one displayed on top of a telephone pole outside a small shopping center at the corner of Rockne Street and Broadway in Greenlawn.

“We want people to know about it.” Sini said of the camera program. “Local government is doing everything in their power to increase the quality of life in our communities.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that the town is dealing with the impact of several recent crimes, specifically recent shootings in Greenlawn that are “all too fresh in our minds.”

“These incidents of crime take away the feeling of safety,” Spencer said. “We will not tolerate violence in our community. These cameras put criminals on notice to say, ‘Don’t come here.’”

The cameras are full color and full motion, and can be accessed remotely through any officer or SCPD official that has access to Wi-Fi. The camera equipment was purchased for about $130,000 in a program funded by SCPD asset forfeiture dollars. However, the plan for a new real-time crime center, part of which will be to monitor the overt security cameras, will be created using SCPD’s normal operating budget.

The cameras are additions to a surveillance system that includes a number of license-plate readers along intersections and hidden cameras placed in areas such as local public parks.

“While the discreet cameras catch crime, the overt cameras do the same but they deter crime as well,” Sini said.

SCPD officials said that depending on community feedback, the cameras could be moved into different positions or to different areas.

On the topic of privacy, Sini responded that people should not expect privacy in a public space.

“The message we want to send is think twice before doing something illegal — think twice before doing something that demotes the quality of life for our residents, because we are watching,” Sini said.

Several nearby residents were happy to have the new camera system in their community.

“It’s a blessing,” said Greenlawn resident Earline Robinson about the implementation of the camera. She said she was concerned about crime, including gang activity, in the area and especially those of several shootings that happened in the community just in the past month.

President of Greenlawn Civic Association, Dick Holmes, said he had high expectations for the cameras and the police department.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “We’ll see what it does and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

The cameras are meant to be hung from telephone poles and are colored bright white and wrapped with a blue stripe that reads “police.” The camera positioned outside the shopping center in Greenlawn looks down at a strip that has been the site of a number of crimes, including several robberies.

One Stop Deli owner Mohammad Afzaal said that in the nine years he’s owned his store, it had been raided four times. Once, robbers broke into the safe behind the counter, and several times he had walked in to find the store in disarray. From those robberies, he estimates he lost about $11,000.

“Sometimes my camera doesn’t work,” Afzaal said, pointing to the camera hanging in the corner of his store. “But the camera out there, it will work.”

The front entrance of Prime, a restaurant located on New York Avenue in Huntington. Photo from Google Maps
Mugshot of Jose Rivera. Photo from SCPD
Mugshot of Jose Rivera. Photo from SCPD

Police arrested a employee of Prime, a restaurant in Huntington, on July 23 after officers said the employee had placed a cell phone that was set to record in the employee bathroom of the restaurant.

A female employee of Prime, on New York Ave., discovered the cell phone, placed in an employee bathroom at approximately 8:30 p.m. and following an investigation by Second Squad detectives, Jose Rivas, a dishwasher at the restaurant, was arrested and charged with second-degree unlawful surveillance.

Rivas, 34, was held overnight at the 2nd Precinct and is set to go back to court on July 29 at the First District Court in Central Islip. Attorney information for Rivas was not available.

Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD

Police arrested a Centereach man on Tuesday afternoon who they say used a pole to turn red light cameras away from the road and potential violators.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the suspect used an expandable pole to tamper with the cameras, pushing the lenses toward the sky. Officers from the SCPD’s 6th Precinct Crime Section received anonymous tips regarding a video post on social media that allegedly shows 42-year-old Stephen Ruth tampering with several of the cameras in Ronkonkoma, including one on Ocean Avenue at the Long Island Expressway’s south service road on both Aug. 21 and Aug. 24. Shortly before being arrested on Tuesday afternoon, he also allegedly tampered with two other cameras on that same service road, at the intersection with Hawkins Avenue.

After an investigation, officers arrested Ruth at his home on Stewart Circle.

He was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration.

Attorney information for Ruth was not immediately available on Wednesday.

The red light cameras, which are maintained by Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Incorporated, take photographs at busy intersections throughout Suffolk County, recording license plates of vehicles whose drivers run through a red light or do not come to a complete stop before making a right turn on a red signal. The company reviews the photos snapped — and gets final approval from the county — and for each confirmed violation, the registered owner of the vehicle receives a $50 traffic citation.

Suffolk’s red light camera program began in summer 2010, and signs alert approaching drivers at every intersection where there is a camera.

Unlike other moving violations, red light camera violations do not add points to a driver’s license, as the cameras only record rear license plates and cannot confirm the driver of a violating vehicle.

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