The Suffolk County Police Department needs more oversight, but a committee entirely composed of Suffolk County legislators is not going to cut it.
Rob Trotta, the Republican representative for the 13th Legislative District, called upon his experience in law enforcement when he proposed such a committee to investigate and oversee county police operations. There have been concerns after issues such as former police chief James Burke’s resignation last year amid charges of civil rights violations. Trotta is a former Suffolk County detective who once worked on the FBI’s Long Island task force. His idea would put six members of the Legislature on this committee to review police practices, as well as those in the district attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s office, and investigate allegations of favoritism and other issues.
While we support his notion of assembling an oversight committee to keep the county police department honest, we also prefer bringing in people from different backgrounds. There should be legislators involved on the committee, but we would limit it to only two members — one from the Legislature’s majority party and one from its minority. From there, we would add a local expert on ethics, one representative each from the police department, sheriff’s office and DA’s office, and perhaps a financial member such as Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. Bringing together these different brains and skill sets would bring more ideas to the table and help in problem-solving — diversity in opinions and backgrounds could enhance the conversation.
Having this sort of diverse membership would also help prevent abuse, as the committee Trotta has proposed will have the authority to subpoena and to administer oaths and affirmations. Not that we think our legislators are necessarily untrustworthy, but putting that level of power into the hands of any one lone group is asking for trouble. We already have enough of that with people who have abused their authority — that’s why we’re in this position in the first place.