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Errol Toulon

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks during a media event Feb. 9 at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. Photo by Kevin Redding

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.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., second from right, joined by his wife Tina, right, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone during his inauguration Jan. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

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.’

—Steve Kuehhas

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.”

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The landing page of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office's new website. TBR News Media

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office has launched a redesigned website at www.suffolksheriff.com. The project was one of newly-elected Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s first priorities, saying he wanted to ensure that the public had easy access to information, like visiting and bail instructions; filing for income and property executions; volunteer and intern opportunities; and the wide array of special programs offered by the sheriff’s office.

A look at some of the services available from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. TBR News Media

“The redesigned website is easier to navigate and contains information on so many of the services that we offer to the public,” Toulon said. “I wanted it to be user-friendly, informative and modern, and I think we hit the mark.”

One of Toulon’s priorities is educating the public about substance abuse, with a focus on prevention. Links to resources are available directly from the homepage.

“I intend to be very outspoken about the drug epidemic, and we will be continually posting information and updates on our website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube,” Toulon said. All of the sheriff’s social media accounts are accessible to users navigating through the site.

The sheriff’s office offers Personal Jail Tours for young people, and a tracking device called Project Lifesaver that provides another level of safety for individuals that wander due to cognitive impairments.

Incumbents win back Brookhaven, Suffolk County legislator seats

The race between Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon appears to be over. Photo on left by Alex Petroski; photo on right by Rita J. Egan

By Desirée Keegan

In a landslide victory, Suffolk County will have a new district attorney, and with that a new chief of police.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) defeated Ray Perini (R) with 62.08 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 general election. Perini, who came up with 106,773 votes, ran a contentious campaign against Sini, who campaigned as a reformer hoping to restore reliability to the office.

“Together we have ushered in a new era of criminal justice in Suffolk County, an era of integrity, fairness and doing the right thing,” Sini told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Hauppauge. “We are going to return the office to the honorable institution it once was.”

With Sini’s victory, he will leave his post at the start of 2018, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) will appoint a new police commissioner.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini talks to supporters after learning about his landslide win for district attorney. Photo by Greg Catalano

“I will immediately begin to assemble a top-notch transition team consisting of local and federal officials,” Sini continued. “This team will conduct a thorough top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top assessment of the office and we will do whatever it takes to ensure the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office works for the people. Under my administration, the office will work for the people and not politics. For far too long this office has been used as a tool for those who are politically connected. That ends today.”

The race for the new sheriff in town was too close to call at the end of election night, with Democrat Errol Toulon, a former New York City deputy corrections commissioner, holding a slim lead over Republican Larry Zacarese, an assistant police chief at Stony Brook University. The last update from the Suffolk County Board of Election’s unofficial results showed Toulon had 141,006 votes to Zacarese’s 139,652.

Toulon said he believes he will maintain his advantage.

“I feel very confident,” he said from the IBEW Local 25 building in Hauppauge. “I feel incredibly overwhelmed with the support considering I have only been in this race for five-and-a-half weeks, and the people of Suffolk County recognize they want someone with experience, and I feel confident that when the absentee ballots are counted I will be sheriff of Suffolk County.”

Zacarese said he knew it was down to the wire, and couldn’t wait to see the results once the 15,000 absentee ballots are counted.

“For anybody here who knows me, you know I don’t do anything the easy way, so what else did you expect?” he said. “This is far from over. We’re going to get to work starting tomorrow.”

Incumbents swept Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town in TBR News Media’s coverage area on election night.

In the most contested legislative race on the North Shore, incumbent 6th District Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) edged out Rocky Point resident and local business owner Gary Pollakusky to secure her fourth term. After winning by 17 votes in the 2015 election, Anker finished the evening with 10,985 (54.93 percent) votes to Pollakusky’s 9,004 (45.03 percent).

Diane and Ed Romaine celebrate the Brookhaven Town supervisor’s re-election. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We had such an amazing victory, and this shows you all the hard work that I do, that my office does,” Anker said. “This is what we do — we are public servants. We work for the people. The people make a decision to vote and it’s a victory for everyone. There are so many initiatives and projects that I started and I want to continue with.”

Pollakusky thanked the members of his team for their hard work in putting together what he called a “great campaign.”

“Blood sweat and tears,” he said went into his preparation for election night. “Really, we ran a great race.”

In the 5th District, Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is looking forward to continuing her environmental work. She came through with 63.39 percent of the vote, defeating challenger Ed Flood, who finished with 36.56 percent of the vote.

“I love our community, and I work hard every day to make a difference and to help people,” Hahn said. “I’m just thrilled to be able to continue to do that.”

Returnee Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) claimed her second term in office at the helm of the 12th District with an overwhelming 67.40 percent of the vote to challenger Kevin Hyms’ 32.55 percent.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) was in a race that nearly doubled in turnout total from the last time he ran. With 61.9 percent of the vote, the longtime politician secured his seventh and eighth year as the head of the town.

“Thank you to all of the voters in Brookhaven,” he said from Stereo Garden LI in Patchogue. “Thank you for the overwhelming mandate for myself and all those who ran with us. We got the message. We’re going to keep on making sure that taxes stay low, we’re going to keep on moving Brookhaven forward, we’re going to keep on doing the right thing.”

Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) also secured their seats.

Voters anxiously and nervously watch results come in. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cartright, representing the 1st District, won with 60.3 percent of the vote to Republican James Canale’s 39.66 percent.

“I am just extremely humbled and honored to have been given this amazing opportunity,” Canale said. “I may have lost, but you can not keep me down. I will be back and I will be better than ever.”

Bonner, representing the 2nd District, said she was happy with her win. She pulled away with 63.54 percent of the vote to Coram resident and software developer Mike Goodman’s 36.43 percent.

In the town’s 3rd Council District, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) lauded what he called “amazing results” (65.53 percent of the votes).

“Well I guess the word is out — good Republican government is back in Brookhaven,” LaValle said. “I look back at this town board — this is a great team we have here with supervisor Romaine, highway superintendent [Dan] Losquadro — this is a team that’s going to get the job done and has gotten the job done for the residents of Brookhaven.”

Losquadro (R) maintained his highway superintendent title, securing 60.32 percent of the votes to Democratic challenger Anthony Portesy’s 39.65 percent. Donna Lent (I) will remain town clerk with a 57.26  to 42.7 percent win over Democrat Cindy Morris.

Lent said of the results, “when you run on your record and you run on your integrity you always win.”

Rita J. Egan and Alex Petroski contributed reporting

Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon are vying for the Suffolk County sheriff position. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Rita J. Egan

Both candidates for Suffolk County sheriff will bring more than two decades of public service experience to the position if elected. The race does not feature an incumbent, as current Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election after 12 years in the position. On Oct. 13, Republican candidate for sheriff Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon visited the TBR News Media office to discuss their experiences and how they would handle the position if elected.

Zacarese, assistant chief of police and director of the office of emergency management at Stony Brook University since 2009, who is also an attorney, has been a New York City police officer and is currently a volunteer paramedic.

Toulon began serving as a correctional officer at Rikers Island in 1982 and retired as a captain in 2004. For two years he was assistant deputy county executive for public safety in Suffolk and in 2014 he was named deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City  Department of Corrections.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot on various levels inside of a correctional agency, and while that’s not the entire makeup of the sheriff’s department, it is a good portion of it.”

— Errol Toulon

Toulon said he feels from day one he would be able to manage the sheriff’s office effectively and will attempt to save taxpayers’ dollars through technology training and equipment.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot on various levels inside of a correctional agency, and while that’s not the entire makeup of the sheriff’s department, it is a good portion of it,” Toulon said.

Zacarese said he believes his experience would be an asset, especially with a need for capital planning, budgeting and managing grants in today’s tough economic climate, he said.

“My role as an emergency manager at Stony Brook is really broad based,” Zacarese said. “Not only am I involved in the day-to-day operations, planning, mitigation and response and recovery, but I oversee an office that handles all the electronic physical security, design, installation and maintenance for the entire campus, which is over 250 buildings.”

Both cited combating gang activities on Long Island as a priority for the next sheriff.

Toulon said his team at Rikers would gather intelligence from inside the jail as far as calls, visits and social media interactions before incarceration and then would work with law enforcement agencies to gather and disseminate the information. According to him, his team’s work brought down 37 members of the Bloods gang. He said using a database to collect intelligence gathered and sharing it with other agencies is vital in rounding up gang members, and he said he thought his experiences could translate seamlessly to the Suffolk position.

Zacarese is also familiar with combating gang problems. A case he worked on while at a precinct in Jackson Heights involved the investigation of narcotics trafficking by members of the Latin Kings. He said the county lost critical ground in the fight against gangs when the FBI removed two Suffolk County police detectives assigned to the bureau’s joint Long Island Gang Task Force by James Burke, former police department chief, who was found guilty of beating up a suspect and trying to cover it up.

“I have already had conversations and meetings with Homeland Security investigations, with people on the U.S. Marshals’ task force and making sure we have enough people on those task forces,” Zacarese said.

Toulon agreed with Zacarese that in addition to disseminating information, manpower is important.

“Task forces are very important, and keeping our members on these task forces is extremely important,” Toulon said.

“I have already had conversations and meetings with Homeland Security investigations, with people on the U.S. Marshals’ task force and making sure we have enough people on those task forces.”

— Larry Zacarese

The candidates touched on the subject of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both said while the sheriff’s office doesn’t get involved with immigration issues, it’s important to cooperate with the federal agency. Zacarese said many illegal immigrants are held in jails due to being violent predicate felons and people who return to the country illegally after being deported. The two also agreed it’s important for law enforcement agencies to increase communication with immigrant communities to ensure law abiding citizens do not fear deportation from ICE agents, which makes building cases against gang members more difficult.

Both candidates said they want to work on getting more help for those with substance abuse problems while incarcerated, which may decrease the chances of being arrested again.

“There are people who are leaving the correctional facility without so much as a business card for a social worker or any outreach programs [now],” Zacarese said.

Toulon said while substance abusers are seen by a medical staff to be treated, he agreed when prisoners leave the jail, they need assistance with finding housing and jobs.

“What I propose is creating a resource map so in each particular town we would know where those particular resources are for an individual so when we give them a card or give them the information they would be able to connect and have someone in the sheriff’s they can call and be that conduit,” Toulon said.

Both agreed that combating the drug problem, especially opioid overdoses, needs to be a priority in the county. Better tracking of overdoses; where they are happening, how they’re happening and deaths due to overdoses to identify where people need help, were areas each candidate brought up as meaningful first steps. Zacarese said he believes in enforcing the laws on the books and “strict enforcement for the suppliers, help for the people who are there in the middle and giving them long-term treatment options.”

Toulon pointed out that increasing monitoring of physicians who dispense pain management is also needed and fostering communication with communities “to actually acknowledge the problem that our family and friends are having so that we can get the correct treatment for them.”