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Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks during an interviw at TBR News Media in Setauket July 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Seven months into Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s (D-Lake Grove) term, several issues have become top priorities. He sat for an exclusive interview at the TBR News Media office with the editorial staff July 20 to detail the road ahead.

Staffing issues within Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office is short-staffed specifically due to officers retiring or leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, according to Toulon.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day,” he said. “We just lost two — one going to [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] police and one going to the New York City Police Academy. I’m expecting to lose two in the near future; more going to other law enforcement [jobs].”

The department is short on 76 mandated posts that the two county corrections facilities are supposed to have. This has led to an increase in overtime for existing corrections personnel. Toulon said he sees the low starting salary for Suffolk County corrections officers as the primary driver of the staff shortage. Those in the positions are paid $30,000 per year initially, reaching about $76,000 after 12 years. Starting salaries in Nassau County or New York City corrections are about $10,000 more.

“The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

Toulon said 30 people will be graduating from the county academy Aug. 8 to fill some of the vacancies.

A pay raise would have to be approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, though Toulon said he supports it.

School Security

As the occurrences of school shootings seemingly increase nationally, especially after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, security has become a hot topic amongst school districts and communities. The sheriff’s office is working on the issue as well. Toulon said getting everybody on the same page when it comes to securing schools is a tough but essential job, which requires coordination between school security, police departments and the sheriff’s office.

“When you are going into these schools you frequently realize some of these schools have armed security, some have unarmed security, and some have security that are armed because they hired retired law enforcement, and it’s not publicized,” Toulon said.

School security officers obviously do not have standards as far as uniforms across county school districts. Further confusing local law enforcement, each school might have different protocols in engaging an active shooter, whether they will actively engage the shooter with a firearm or focus on getting the children to safety.

Toulon said he and his officers have gone into schools at the request of the districts to perform security assessments. So far 10 out of 69 school districts in Suffolk County have taken the Sheriff’s department up on the offer.

Toulon said an ideal setup might be having standardized training for all school districts and school security officers in the county not only so they would know what to do in a school fire, bomb or shooting scenario, but also because it would train them to interact with any local police that arrive on the scene.

The sheriff’s office plans to host a forum for Suffolk County school superintendents August 16 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue to talk broadly about school security and to share ideas.

Dealing with gangs and immigration officials

Toulon said that while county jails only hold people charged with local crimes, they do work with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency when it comes to some inmates.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“The sheriff’s office doesn’t profile people,” Toulon said. “If you blow a stop sign or a red light, we are going to pull you over. The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

Toulon stressed that the sheriff’s department does not participate on any ICE raids. He advised the immigrant community to know their Miranda Rights, that they do not have to communicate to police without a lawyer, and that anyone concerned about an arrest could contact the sheriff’s office.

Many people in local communities are concerned about activities perpetrated by the local incarnations of the MS-13 gang. Several high-profile gang murders were prosecuted in the past few years, including the 2017 murder of two young girls in Brentwood, complicating community-law enforcement relations and heating up a polarized, politically-based national discourse. Stories of abuses of power carried out by the federal agency, mostly in areas nearer to the southern border, have not been representative of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with ICE, Toulon said, adding that he would not tolerate inappropriate behavior from any uniformed officer within the facilities he oversees, be them staff under his purview or otherwise.

Toulon said comments made by President Donald Trump (R) on the matter have made his job tougher, especially when dealing with local immigrant communities.

“The tensions that I see in the immigrant community come from what they see going on in the rest of the country,” Toulon said. “The fact that our current president tweets about it and makes comments about a whole population – that is not fair, it makes my job a lot more difficult.”

In the dark of night, it silently slithered toward the back of the car, spray painting the windows with a sheen of opaque white.

It made its way around the car, finding the seam in the doors and filling it with surprisingly strong epoxy. It glided down to the ground and sucked some of the warm air out of the tires. The car was trapped on the driveway with no way to fight off this unwelcome intruder. If its alarm could have gone off, it would have warned us. But, no, that alarm only goes off early in the morning on the weekends, when someone opens the door with the key instead of deactivating the alarm system with a button, annoying the neighbors and embarrassing our kids and us in equal measure.

It slid under the hood. It paused over the heart of the machine, looking for places to extend its icy fingers into the exposed engine, snickering with delight at the opportunity to turn 3,000 pounds of metal into a frozen couch.

It reached into the battery and deactivated the power.

On my way to the car, it issued a warning, or was it a challenge, when it wrapped its icy fingers around my neck. I tried to ignore it and stick with my routine. When I turned the key, however, the car coughed weakly.

“Come on,” I pleaded, as the cold scraped its icicle hands against my exposed calf. I tried again. The third time was not the charm, either.

After getting a jump start, I decided to outsmart the wretched cold. I cleared space in the garage, hauling all the heavy items parked there into the basement. The garage door and the walls of the house would offer greater protection. No, I wasn’t giving the car a blanket and pillow and setting it up with reruns of “Knight Rider,” but I was protecting the family car.

The next day, I went through the basement into the garage, put the key in the ignition and beamed broadly as the internal combustion engine roared to life. Ha! I foiled the frigid air. I told the kids to climb in the car, which warmed up rapidly as a reward for keeping it in the garage, and drove triumphantly to school. The cold wouldn’t undermine my day, I thought, as I maneuvered through the responsibilities of the day.

When I returned home, I found that the cold had recruited my garage door to its unworthy cause. I didn’t look carefully enough when I had pulled away from the house. The garage door, fooled by a small piece of snow in the corner of the floor, thought it had hit something and reopened, where it stayed all day.

I pulled the car in, closed the garage and waited for the door to close. When the metal door reached the ground, it reopened. I played a short game with the door, pushing the button just after it started to open again so that the cold air had only a small opening.

“I win,” I announced as I entered the warm house.

When I turned on the water in my bathroom the next morning, I realized I had lost. The combination of the cold from the open garage from the day before and the small crack at the bottom of the door was enough to enable the cold to lay its frozen hands on my pipes.

Several hours later, the plumber, who was busier than a foraging ant during a Fourth of July picnic, shivered in the garage and proclaimed the small opening under the door as the culprit.

This cold snap, which finally left the area earlier this week, won this battle.

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The entrance to Blydenburgh County Park is in Smithtown. File photo

A man trying to rescue his dog from a freezing lake on Saturday morning needed a rescue himself, after falling into chest-deep water, according to police.

The 56-year-old Brooklyn resident was going after Dena the dog, who had gotten loose during a walk and ran onto a frozen lake at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown, the Suffolk County Police Department said. While going after the canine, he fell into the lake himself.

Park rangers as well as officers from the SCPD’s 4th Precinct, Emergency Service Section, Aviation Section and Marine Bureau responded to the park, on Veterans Memorial Highway. Police said Michael Coscia from the Emergency Service Section put on a water rescue suit and crawled onto the ice, while tethered to a rope officers Michael Simpson and Robert Stahl were holding.

After the man was in the water for about 25 minutes, Stahl, Simpson and Sgt. Michael Homan pulled both him and Coscia from the water, police said. The dog walked off the ice.

Police said the Brooklyn man was treated for hypothermia at Stony Brook University Hospital.

A young boy stands in a pothole on Woodhull Avenue in Port Jefferson Station to demonstrate its size. Photo from Dawn Andolfi

The Brookhaven Town Highway Department is recouping from the cold and moving on to a new task: filling those pesky potholes.

“This proved to be an exceptional winter,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said in a Monday interview. “This year was worse than last year in terms of icing.”

The winter also proved to be costly. Losquadro estimated the department spent double the $3.6 million budgeted amount for snow removal, despite town officials injecting the budget line with an additional $1 million. Now, as the weather is warming up, the department is moving forward with repairing the roads.

A car swerves to avoid a pothole on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A car swerves to avoid a pothole on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Losquadro said the frequent below-freezing temperatures made the ground freeze deeper and is leading to potholes “literally forming overnight.” He said the warm daytime temperatures and colder nights aren’t helping the situation either, as the warming and refreezing of the ground allows liquid to get into cracks and expand.

Although the holes aren’t finished forming, repairs are on the way.

Losquadro said local asphalt plants are opening soon, which will benefit the department, as workers will no longer have to travel to and from Deer Park and Bay Shore to retrieve the materials.

“They were only able to [pick up] two loads a day, which doesn’t go a long way,” Losquadro said.

Despite the town’s effort, the potholes have been a nuisance for some residents. Mt. Sinai Bagel Cafe owner Marcus Argyros was driving on Mount Sinai-Coram Road on Monday when he popped a tire.

“I didn’t swerve and because it was in the middle of the road, I hit it and it popped my tire,” Argyros said, as he worked to put a spare tire on his car. “It’s like Mario Kart with all the potholes right now.”

In an effort to complete all of the repairs, Losquadro said the town is extending workdays by two hours.

Marcus Argyros changes his tire on the side of the road after hitting a pothole. Photo by Barbara Donlon
Marcus Argyros changes his tire on the side of the road after hitting a pothole. Photo by Barbara Donlon

While residents can try to get reimbursed, the likelihood of it happening during this time is unlikely, as the potholes are to be expected.

Losquadro urges residents to call the town when a pothole is visible so they can write it down and fix it as soon as possible.

As for next winter, Losquadro is already planning. He said he would ask for an increase in the snow removal budget, as he wants to avoid being in this situation again.

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