Police & Fire

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, right, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo

Members of a task force meant to offer reforms to Suffolk police met with community members in the 6th Precinct Dec. 8 through Zoom to listen to concerns.

As part of the Suffolk County Police Reform & Reinvention Task Force, members have been hosting Zoom meetings for each of the town’s seven precincts plus East End towns for community comment. Members of the task force include everyone from Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Suffolk police union president Noel DiGerolamo to NAACP chapter president Tracey Edwards and Daniel Russo, administrator of Assigned Counsel Defender Plan of Suffolk County. 

In a meeting that went on for just under three hours and had over 150 participants Dec. 8, many in the community expressed some fear and apprehension surrounding police, often with people of color citing a different experience with law enforcement members than their white neighbors. A few others shared their general support for police and expressed their thanks for officers’ involvement in the community.

Erica Rechner, director of Opportunities Long Island, which tries to connect youth in underserved communities with jobs in the unionized construction industry, said she mostly works with many young people of color in communities who live in areas with high unemployment, and some come to her with criminal records. The interactions she said she’s had with police have been much different than those of her young clients.

“Their experience with the police department is not one me or my family recognize,” Rechner said. “My experience has been one of safety and security — I’m a white woman. At some point in their shared experiences the police officers are verbally abusive and often escalate to the use of excessive force. There are numerous instances of physical injury while in custody.”

She said she asked these young people to share their experiences at the public sessions, but practically all declined, fearing retaliation.

“Their experience has taught them the police are not meant for them or their community,” she added.

Odalis Hernandez, a graduate program administrator at Stony Brook University, said she was once stopped by police officers at night “with multiple police officers shining a flashlight in every window and asking for my ID and documents,” adding she felt she was being treated as up to no good from the get-go.

“I know of others who have been through much worse,” she said. “We can’t deny that those problems exist, and we need to hear that from all our precincts and leadership. We can’t let the police have a political affiliation because that disenfranchises people in the community.”

Hernandez said such things as bias and de-escalation training should not be a one-and-done class but should be a continuous dialogue for police.

Others criticized the Suffolk School Resource Officer Program, with some speakers saying such officers statistically lead to more physical confrontations and create more of a school-to-prison pipeline. Others said such officers target students who are people of color and treat them differently than white students for the same offenses. 

Michelle Caldera-Kopf, an immigration lawyer and managing attorney for the Safe Passage Project, said that SROs have caused “the wrongful detention and deportation of our students.” She said such officers have shared information about students with immigration authorities, sometimes over the heads of law enforcement.

Others indicated more positive interactions with police. Rob Taylor, a member of the Citizens Academy Alumni Association, said police already do a lot of things in the community people are not aware of.

“Suffolk County has gone through a lot of changes over the years, especially since around 2014 — they’re all EMTs, they’ve undergone crisis training,” he said.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, president of the Middle Island Civic Association, said that with whatever reforms take place, “I hope we don’t lose what’s already working in these relationships — community policing is still essential.” 

She added that police should look for uniformity on how crime data is presented and distributed at civic meetings, with more emphasis on displays and data-driven dialogue, such info to be published for all to see online.

“Real police reform must be data driven, and that data has to include honest breakdowns of who is being charged and where those charges are taking place,” she said.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said there should be efforts to expand the positive interactions between community and police, some of which includes just talking about what may be going on in people’s neighborhoods.

“These are all things why we need to have our police department out there, doing events, interacting, because that really supports the mission our police department is here to do,” he said.

Others shared their desire for those Black and brown voices in the community to be heard. Erin Zipman, from Stony Brook, said police need to listen to those, envisioning a future where we don’t have to endanger the lives of citizens or officers, and instead focus on treating “the roots of problems instead of punishing them.”

The task force is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. This executive order, originally signed in June, cites that every police agency must make a comprehensive review of police departments and their procedures, and address the needs of the community to promote “trust, fairness and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.” 

The county has an April 1, 2021, deadline to create its reform plan for its police department to be eligible for future state funding.

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police Major Case Unit detectives are investigating a hit-and-run crash that killed a man in Stony Brook during the morning hours Dec. 20.

Ronald Destefano, 54, of Lake Grove, was crossing Route 347 from south to north at Hallock Road when he was struck by a westbound vehicle that fled the scene. A passing motorist called 911 at approximately 7:05 a.m. to report a body in the roadway. DeStefano was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives believe a silver vehicle, which sustained front and/or passenger-side damage, may have been involved in the crash.

Anyone with information about this crash is asked to call Major Case at 631-852-6555 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

This post was updated Dec. 20 to include the name of the victim and the damage to the car.

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

Two men have been arrested for allegedly robbing a CVS in Port Jefferson.

On Thursday, Dec. 17, at approximately 5 p.m., Suffolk County Police arrested two men who entered the CVS, located at 464 Main Street.

The two men displayed a gun and demanded cash.

Major Case Unit detectives were surveilling the location when the robbery took place. They arrested Clem Narcisse and his accomplice Lemarvin Rowan, Jr. a short distance away.

Narcisse, 47, of Brentwood, and Rowan Jr, 52, who is un-domiciled, were charged with Robbery 1st Degree. They are scheduled for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip on Dec. 18.

 

Snows blanket the ground at a winter storm hits the North Shore Dec. 16 into 17. Photo by Kyle Barr

*Update: This version of the story includes the number of homes who are still without power as of 4 p.m.

The Nor’easter that hit the east coast cut out power to thousands of homes on Long Island. By 4 p.m. on Thursday, the number of homes without power declined to 348. Earlier in the day, 3,444 homes were without electricity. PSEG Long Island said it had restored power to more than 98% of the homes affected by the storm.

PSEG LI expected to restore power to all homes by the end of the day.

“We expect to restore power to all remaining customers today,” PSEG LI said in a statement.

PSEG added personnel, including tree and line crews, to repair damage and restore outages. The utility had more than 1,300 line workers, tree trimmers, surveyors and other personnel on site to restore power.

“This storm brought down trees and wires throughout our service area,” John O’Connell, Vice President, Transmission & Distribution, PSEG Long Island, said in a statement. “We know that being without power for any length of time is a hardship and we thank our customers for their patience as we work through the damage and difficult conditions to restore their power [as] safely and quickly as possible.”

In an update on the storm, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) described the number of power outages as “good news,” as outages were a “big concern here because of the nature of the storm.” Bellone spoke with reporters at the Department of Public Works in Commack.

“We did not see a significant number of power outages in this storm,” Bellone added.

Bellone suggested that outages may have been lower because some of the limbs and trees that could have come down had already fallen or been removed.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron, meanwhile, thanked the Department of Public Works and the police department for working through the night.

As of 8 a.m., Chief Cameron said the county had 171 accidents since 4 p.m. the night before. Police were working on two active crashes, which is lower than they would normally have.

Chief Cameron also wanted to thank many residents of Suffolk County for heeding the advisory and staying off the roads.

Some of the ramps for the Long Island Expressway still had plenty of snow and slush on them. Chief Cameron advised drivers to consider taking the next ramp, if their exit appeared challenging from the conditions.

Chief Cameron also urged residents to give themselves plenty of time to clear their car of snow and ice before they need to leave their homes.

“My car was heavily iced,” Chief Cameron said. “It took me a long time to clean” it off.

Looking at the forecast for Friday, Bellone said the colder temperatures could create conditions for black ice. He urged people to be “careful throughout [Thursday] and into tomorrow as well.”

Brookhaven's fire marshal shows what could happen if a tree isn't properly taken care of. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Village of Port Jefferson signed an intermunicipal agreement with the Town of Brookhaven to ensure that if the village is in need of fire marshal services, the town’s marshal can step in instead.

Mayor Margot Garant mentioned there was an issue the weekend of Dec. 5 with needing immediate inspections from the fire marshal, in this case an inspection for the new Port Jeff Lobster House location. 

“We had a shortage of staff this past weekend, which was bad timing with important inspections needed from the fire marshal,” Garant said.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said the language would allow the town fire marshals to step in when their own is shorthanded or short scheduled, effectively cross designating them as village fire marshal under village code.

Egan added that the town did not ask for a reciprocal agreement with village fire marshals designated for work within the wider Brookhaven town.

“That would never realistically occur they’re so small we’re so big — they have no jurisdiction inside village without board approval,” he said.

A snowstorm that took place Nov. 15, 2018 blindsided drivers on their way from work. Suffolk workers are trying to avoid that same situation. File photo by Kyle Barr

With a snowstorm the Weather Channel has already named Gail bearing down on Long Island, packing 50 mph winds and predicted snowfalls of around a foot, Suffolk County officials urged residents to avoid the Wednesday evening and Thursday morning commutes, if possible.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron said people driving in the snow during either commute could create dangerous conditions.

“People haven’t driven in snow for some time,” Cameron said Tuesday at a press conference at the Department of Public Works Yard Salt Barn in Commack. “If you can work remotely tomorrow, I would advise that.”

Similarly, Chief Cameron said the Thursday morning commute could be “much more impacted” and suggested “if you can stay home, that would be great.”

Additionally, he said temperatures close to freezing might create the kind of conditions that favors heavy, wet snow.

“If you have health conditions, it might be wise to pay someone to clear your driveway,” Chief Cameron suggested.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said last year was a “light” year for snow, which means that the supply of salt for clearing snow-covered roadways is “plentiful right now.”

As of early on Tuesday, Bellone said the forecast called for snow to start around 2 p.m. and should worsen through the evening.

The combination of high winds, sleet and snow increases the possibility of power outages.

In a press release, PSEG indicated that the conditions could cause tree limbs to break and pull down wires.

PSEG is bringing in mutual aid crews to work with the company’s personnel on the island.

“Our workforce is performing system checks and logistics checks to ensure the availability of critical materials, fuel and other supplies,” John O’Connell, vice president of Transmission & Distribution at PSEG LI said in a statement.

During the storm, Long Island may create an enhancement to the outage communications process. With this enhancement, customers can contact the Call Center early in the storm to receive an “Assessing Conditions” message, rather than an estimated time of restoration.

This will give crews time to assess storm impact before setting power restoration expectations.

This procedural change comes after PSEG LI encountered numerous communication problems amid Tropical Storm Isaias earlier this year, during which customers couldn’t contact the utility and PSEG provided misleading estimated times to restore power.

PSEG said residents can report outages by texting OUT to PSEGLI. People can also report outages through the app, website at www.psegliny.com/outages or with their voice using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant app on their smartphones.

Residents who would like to report an outage or downed wire can call the electric service number, at 800-490-0075.

Bellone said county officials would monitor the power restoration process.

“Through the emergency operation center, we will be working closely with PSEG, making sure they are doing everything they can to keep power on and to restore power if it does go out,” Bellone said.

The forecast conditions may mean that plowing could take longer, as drivers operate during white out conditions, Bellone said.

“It’s slow going in these kinds of conditions,” Bellone said.

Bellone said the crews are prepared and will work in overnight hours to make sure roadways are cleared.

Recognizing all the challenges 2020 has brought, Bellone said it is “not surprising as we get towards the end of this very strange year that we’ll have another first: our first pandemic snowstorm.”

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Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 4th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify a man who allegedly stole property from a Commack store in May.

A man allegedly stole a portable generator from Walmart, located at 85 Crooked Hill Road May 25 at approximately 10:25 a.m. The stolen merchandise was valued at approximately $300.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

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The Wading River Fire Department building on North Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

In one of the only contested fire commissioner races in the local area, a past commissioner managed to unseat an incumbent in Wading River by a margin of 25 votes after ballots were counted Dec. 8.

Tim Deveny was elected to the Wading River board of fire commissioners Dec. 8. Photo from Deveny

Tim Devany, a 23-year Wading River resident and past commissioner of the Wading River Fire District, gained 197 votes to his opponent, 15-year incumbent and lifelong Wading River resident Jim Meier’s 172. 

District Manager Gregory Michalakopoulos said there were two additional write-in votes.

The seat is for a five-year term starting Jan. 1, 2021, and ending Dec. 31, 2025. 

Head here for past coverage of this year’s commissioner race.

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Police commissioner Geraldine Hart. File photo

By Kimberly Brown

Concerned Suffolk County residents were able to voice their opinions on new reforms they believe the police department should enact at a virtual Suffolk County Police Reform & Reinvention Task Force public listening session for the 4th Precinct last month. The task force is used to address the needs of the community and any racial bias happening within the department.

Multiple speakers began their speeches by calling attention to the absence of Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini (D) and County Executive Steve Bellone (D). A member of the Suffolk County Democratic Socialists of America expressed his frustrations concerning the nonattendance of the two key public servants in the county government.

“If they were truly committed to the process, they would take the time to be here,” the DSA member said. “Their continued absence is a slap in the face to everyone who is taking their time to speak tonight, and who has spoken in past meetings.”

Many attended the meeting with the goal of sharing ideas for accountability measures that should be enacted in the police department. A member of the LI United to Transform Policing and Community Safety discussed her thoughts on the issue in hopes to achieve a change in their process.

The passage of a right-to-know act was one recommendation a member discussed. This would require officers to distribute a card with their information printed on it when pulling over any resident.

“Oftentimes when stopped by police, the public gets little to no information about who is stopping you, and sometimes they’re not even told why,” the LI United member said.

“Having officers hand out a card with their name, badge number and reason for the stop will provide a new level of transparency.”

Other speakers think the police department has not showcased a racial bias against communities of color, and feel the department has been disrespected as a whole by various Suffolk residents.

“We need to talk about how to have a culture change, where parents teach children the cops are not the enemy, the cops are there to help you,” a speaker said. “Show them respect, they have a very difficult job because they don’t know if the call they go on is going to be their last.”

However, another Suffolk County resident disagreed with this statement, saying it is an entitled position to believe that concern over a job is equivalent to or supersedes the value of Black lives. He articulated those police officers have the choice to quit their job if they don’t want to be held accountable for any mishaps.

“There is no such thing as a blue life,” he said. “It is a job. They can quit and go home. I can’t quit being Black, nor do I want to.”

The task force continued to hold its virtual meetings until Dec. 21. Community members said they felt the reform discussions were helpful. For more details, visit the task force website at suffolkcountyny.gov/police-reform.

Editor’s note: Many speakers did not say their name before speaking during the Zoom meeting.

Stock Photo

People aren’t just testing positive for COVID-19 during the second wave; they are also entering the hospital and, in some cases, dying.

Suffolk County has reported over 1,000 positive tests in recent days, as area hospitals have seen an increase in patients needing treatment for their COVID symptoms.

Hospitalizations are now at 394 people, with 67 residents in the intensive care unit. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner in the County Department of Health, said about 2/3 of the people admitted to the hospital were over 64.

The number of deaths has also been climbing over the last six weeks. During the entire month of November, 35 people died. In just the first week of December, COVID has contributed to the deaths of 34 people.

Those numbers are up from six in October, 15 in September and five in August.

“We are not even halfway through this month [and the number of deaths] are more than August, September and October combined,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. These figures are a “stark reminder of the danger this virus poses.”

Bellone urged residents to continue to wear masks and remain socially distanced.

Even as the first night of Hannukah, during which some families gather together to celebrate the Festival of Lights, Bellone urged caution amid small gatherings.

The Suffolk County Health Department is monitoring 13 clusters from Thanksgiving or family gatherings, some of which were below the 10-person limit.

A small gathering in East Islip involved five people, who have all tested positive for COVID-19. Another get-together in Manorville resulted in six out of nine people contracting the virus, while another in Southampton triggered seven out of 10 with the virus.

“None of these gatherings violated the state’s limit,” Bellone said. “That doesn’t mean the virus won’t spread.”

Testing

Bellone said the county is continuing to expand its testing, which “remains one of our most valuable tools.”

After testing over 2,000 students in Hampton Bays, Riverhead and East Hampton, the county started testing in East Islip on Thursday.

The county is also launching a new testing initiative for first responders. Members of fire, rescue and emergency services and emergency medical service providers will have access to rapid testing at six sites throughout the county. That testing will occur on weekends and will start this Saturday.

The county will also make testing available to county law enforcement and partner agencies.

SCPD Limits

The Suffolk County Police Department has reinstated policies to limit contact for officers. While precincts remain open, the SCPD is encouraging residents to limit visits. The SCPD is also providing limited public access to the lobby at police headquarters in Yaphank.

Residents can file police reports online at www.suffolkpd.org or by phone at (631) 852-COPS.

Crimes residents can report online include harassing communications, lost property, crmiinal mischief, non-criminal property damage, minor motor vehicle crashes, identity theft and some larcenies.

The Pistol Licensing Section will be open for purchase orders and pistol license renewals only.