Tags Posts tagged with "Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco"

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco

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

The wait is over.

Nearly a month after Election Day, Suffolk County residents finally know who will replace outgoing Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C) in 2018. Former Rikers Island corrections officer and captain Errol Toulon Jr. (D) emerged ahead of Stony Brook University Assistant Chief of Police Larry Zacarese (R) by a slim margin Nov. 7 in the race to be the next county sheriff, and after thousands of absentee ballots have been counted, Toulon’s lead has held up.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran and the hard work of our volunteers,” Toulon said in a statement. “I look forward to combating gang violence and the opioid epidemic in Suffolk, and to introduce a strong re-entry program for those leaving county jails.”

The victory makes Toulon the first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position in Suffolk’s history, according to campaign manager Keith Davies.

“I think his experience just resonated with folks,” Davies said. “People wanted a sheriff that is ready to tackle the issues.”

In an emailed statement through a campaign spokesperson, Zacarese said he was disappointed and announced, “We did not make up the ground we needed in order to prevail.” A spokesperson from the Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed Toulon had won the race, though a final tally was not immediately available at the time of print. The spokesperson said Toulon held a 2,000-vote lead as of Dec. 1 with about 1,000 ballots left to be counted.

“I want to thank all of the supporters and volunteers who spent countless hours working alongside me both on the campaign trail over the last year and at the Board of Elections over these last few weeks,” Zacarese said. “I am proud of the campaign we ran, the honest and tireless work of our volunteers and the light that was shown on the electoral process here in Suffolk County. I wish the hardworking and dedicated men and women of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office only the best and congratulate Errol Toulon Jr. on winning the election.”

Zacarese trailed Toulon by just 1,354 votes prior to the counting of absentee ballots, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections. The absentee ballots were counted by a bipartisan team of department employees in addition to representatives from both campaigns at the Board of Elections office in Yaphank over a few weeks. Nick LaLota, the department’s commissioner, said on election night at about 8:30 p.m. on Twitter the department had received more than 13,500 absentee ballots to that point, though more were expected.

Toulon began serving as a corrections 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,” Toulon said during a pre-election interview.

Toulon’s victory completes a sweep for the Democrats in the two high-profile Suffolk County races in 2017. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) defeated Ray Perini (R) with 62.08 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 general election to secure the county’s district attorney seat, a position left vacant following the indictment and resignation of Tom Spota (D).

DeMarco announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election after 12 years in the position.

This post was updated to include quotes from Toulon Dec. 7.

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.”

Participants in the Handcuffs to Healing program at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility show off their progress during a press conference Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

In a new program at Yaphank Correctional Facility, Suffolk County inmates and homeless dogs are helping each other get a second chance.

Six men in orange jumpsuits lined up on the grounds of the jail Oct. 4, each with a shelter dog at their side, and took turns walking their four-legged companions around in a large circle, demonstrating the dog’s new socialization skills along the way. With a quick command, the dogs either sat, stayed or laid down. One of the dogs, named Bain, an 11-month-old Rottweiler, even showed off how he can help someone get back on their feet — literally.

Participants in the Handcuffs to Healing program at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility show off their progress during a press conference Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

The demonstration was all part of a presentation of Handcuffs to Healing, a pilot program that teaches low-risk, nonviolent offenders to train abandoned dogs — Rottweilers, pit bulls and German Shepherds plucked from the Brookhaven Town animal shelter.

The aim of the program, which started in mid-September, is to socialize the dogs well enough so they can be put up for adoption. But it’s also doing plenty of good for their trainers too. The inmates train the dogs three nights a week for two hours each day.

“We’re rehabilitating humans through animals,” said Michael Gould, the president and founder of Hounds Town Charities, who pitched the idea of the dog training program to Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco in the spring. “When I see inmates, I see humans. When I see these big, powerful dogs, I see animals that shouldn’t be in a shelter.”

Gould, a former commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Canine Unit, admitted these breeds of dogs are difficult to adopt out because they carry reputations of being dangerous. But they are caring, loving and now well-trained, thanks to the inmates, Gould added.

“These are among the best dogs you can come across,” he said. With a quick snap of his fingers, the dog at Gould’s side stopped and sat at attention. “Everything is low-key. There’s no crazy energy. It’s all about structure and love. Firm hand. Kind heart.”

Undersheriff Steven Kuehhas said he believes the program will reduce recidivism among the inmates, all of whom are serving a local sentence.

“This program gives the inmates the opportunity to learn responsibility,” Kuehhas said. He also added the program may help the inmate’s’ chances of employment, in an animal shelter or as a dog handler, after they leave. He called the program a win-win situation.

Jackie Bondanza, a Hounds Town representative and one of the program’s coordinators, said she’s noticed significant changes among the inmates and dogs since the program started.

“It’s been a very inspiring transformation,” she said. “When the inmates first came, they were all composed and didn’t want to be here. They’ve since really opened up and I think it’s helped build their confidence. Same with the dogs. These dogs would be sitting in cages in a shelter a majority of the day otherwise. This is incredible for them.”

Participants in the Handcuffs to Healing program at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility show off their progress during a press conference Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

The inmates turned dog trainers were chosen by the sheriff’s department under the criteria of being nonviolent offenders and being physically capable of handling their canine.

One of the inmates — Joseph Dima, 36, from Bohemia — said he was thinking of his own dog back home when he signed up for the program.

“To help these dogs find a home and owners that will handle them well — that was a big thing for me,” Dima said, referring to the pit bull he was assigned to, Carl, as a loving mush. “He’s such a great dog. People get the wrong misconceptions about pit bulls. He just wants affection. All the dogs do.”

When the dogs weren’t demonstrating their new skills, they were perched next to their trainers, being petted and rubbed. During the course of the program, the dogs live at Hounds Town Charities, which is housed in Ronkonkoma. Plans are in place to continue Handcuffs to Healing after the expiration of the current six-week program as those behind it seek corporate sponsors and residents interested in adopting the dogs.

“There’s nothing like a dog to help an inmate heal,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who spoke during the event. “These are six dogs and six inmates needing a fresh start. It’s a tremendous program and one we’re going to continue.”

Inside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has sent a clear message to undocumented immigrants who choose to break the law, by announcing the county will no longer need a judge’s order before detaining and holding illegal inmates wanted by federal immigration officials.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. File photo from Kristin MacKay

The policy reversal, which DeMarco believes will be good “for the country, not just the county,” has taken Suffolk off the list of “sanctuary cities” — regions that protect undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws in the United States. The county’s removal from the list is something DeMarco has been in favor of for some time.

The sheriff initiated a review of the sanctuary policy alongside county Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) as soon as the policy was adopted more than a year ago, after concerns that it creates public safety problems by allowing the release of criminal immigrants back to the communities as opposed to letting agents within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, work on deporting them.

Although the announcement has been met with opposition from various immigration advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, DeMarco said nothing has really changed in regards to how undocumented immigrants in the system are handled. He said this merely narrows in on those who entered the country illegally, have committed and been convicted of crimes and have found themselves in the criminal justice system.

According to DeMarco, “it’s not necessarily a policy change,” because since he became sheriff in 2006, ICE agents have been stationed in the county’s correctional facilities. For the past 10 years they have been putting detainers on inmates eligible for release who were either convicted of felonies, “significant misdemeanors,” three or more misdemeanors not considered significant or pose a threat to national security. The department had free reign to explore and investigate any inmate that came in.

It hadn’t been an issue to hold anyone of federal interest until the involvement of the ACLU in 2014.

DeMarco said he received a letter from the group citing two federal lawsuits stating that holding illegal immigrants solely on detainer without a judicial warrant would lead to an onslaught of lawsuits. In these cases, ICE asked municipalities to hold these inmates for an extra 48 hours after they normally would’ve been released to give the agents time to conduct their investigations and pick them up for potential deportation. The courts ruled this as a violation of the immigrants’ Fourth Amendment rights, to illegal search and seizure, without probable cause or a warrant.

“[DeMarco is] doing exactly the right thing both for the community and for the federal government.”

— Jessica Vaughan

In October, DeMarco had a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security and was advised that ICE had adjusted its detainer and administrative warrant paperwork to include probable cause, which means agents can now hold onto someone for an extra 48 hours without requiring a signed warrant from a judge if they are suspected to have immigrated illegally.

DeMarco said the change isn’t too significant in Suffolk County.

“People are trying to make an issue out of something that’s been going on here for more than 10 years,” he said. “This isn’t a problem for the county because ICE agents are stationed at the jail. In a rural county upstate or out West where there isn’t ICE presence within a certain amount of miles, it makes sense for them to hold them for 48 hours.”

While the reversal comes less than a month before the Trump administration inherits the White House and leads a much-anticipated attack against sanctuary city and immigration policies, DeMarco insists that the shift isn’t political.

“When ICE changed their paperwork, they didn’t know who the president was going to be,” DeMarco said. “They were just addressing concerns found in federal lawsuits.”

According to a representative from the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent not-for-profit that removed Suffolk from its list of sanctuary cities, ICE agents don’t go around patrolling the streets looking for criminal immigrants. Instead, agents depend on local law enforcement, like the sheriff’s office, to keep them in custody so they can be deported — “otherwise they flee.”

“[DeMarco is] doing exactly the right thing both for the community and for the federal government,” CIS director of policy studies, Jessica Vaughan, said. “It was his initiative that resulted in the reversal of the policy. Full cooperation with ICE is going to help Suffolk County with some of the more pressing public safety problems, like the resurgence of MS13 [street gang] activity there.”

Cilmi said this is a step in the right direction.

“There’s no cause for protesting because, from a practical standpoint, nothing has really changed and it has nothing to do with undocumented immigrants who are living here,” he said. “As long as they’re following the law, it doesn’t affect them at all. Those who aren’t will see this is not going to be tolerated.”

He said he suspects that the vast majority of the immigrant population living in the county — documented or undocumented — would be supportive of policies that affect drug dealers and gang members who continue to “wreak havoc” in the areas where they live.

“No one wants crimes in their communities,” he said.

Social

9,192FansLike
1,098FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe