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Police Chief

Legislator Rob Trotta, left, calls on Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to resign. Photo by Alex Petroski

Corruption is a word used often relating to Suffolk County government recently, and at least three legislators have had enough.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) spoke at a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature, Evans K. Griffing Building in Riverhead on Tuesday in which he called for the resignation of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and District Attorney Tom Spota. Trotta also called for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer (D), who is also the Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman to step down from one of the two jobs.

“At this point we are calling for the district attorney to step down and to let normalcy come back,” Trotta said, adding stories that continue to come out relating to former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice in February, are “disgusting.” Spota, Bellone and Schaffer were all critical in Burke’s career rise and promotion despite evidence reported by Newsday the men were warned of Burke’s troubled legal past.

Trotta’s calls for Spota’s resignation also stem from his backing of Chris McPartland, a corruption prosecutor in Spota’s office, who Newsday reported in January is under investigation by a federal grand jury for political corruption.

“People need to be held responsible for their actions and right now, in this county, they’re not being held responsible,” Trotta said. “I don’t mean in federal courts or being arrested, I mean morally and socially.”

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) joined Trotta at the press conference. Cilmi stopped short of calling for resignations when pressed, though he made a statement condemning Bellone and Spota’s alleged actions relating to Burke.

“People always have a sense that their political system is corrupt,” Cilmi said. “But day after day, week after week, year after year they’re seeing those fears play out right before their eyes in Suffolk County and it’s disgraceful. Whatever integrity Suffolk County has left is evaporating in a murky haze of finger pointing and deceit.”

Cilmi also echoed Trotta’s sentiments about Schaffer and suggested Schaffer’s two positions created a conflict of interest.

“The people of Suffolk County didn’t elect Schaffer,” Cilmi said. “The people of Babylon elected him town supervisor. Is he able to keep his government role separate from his political role?”

Schaffer could not be reached for comment but Bellone responded to Trotta’s comments in an email through his spokesperson, Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” she wrote. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office. I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment, which is why I nominated former federal prosecutor Tim Sini as police commissioner after vetting him for more than a year.”

Bob Clifford, a spokesperson for Spota, responded in a similar fashion.

“This predictably partisan press conference calling for the resignation of the duly elected district attorney is nothing but a political challenge to the effective leadership of Thomas Spota, who has spent the last 14 years putting criminals in jail,” he said.

McCaffrey and Trotta refuted any claims that the legislators’ motivation was driven by anything other than morality.

“I can tell you there’s Democrats in there that want to be standing here with us,” McCaffrey said, gesturing toward a legislative meeting going on at the same time. “They are ashamed of what’s going on in Suffolk County right now.”

Trotta said he invited Democratic legislators, though none attended.

“This is not about Republicans — this is not about Democrats,” Trotta said. “This is about corruption. Our job as representatives is to look into this. My constituents don’t have the ability to look into it like I can. Having been a former detective for 25 years I came to this job and I am sickened by what I see. Sickened.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo

A North Shore lawmaker and former Suffolk County detective has his sights set on the Suffolk County Police Department.

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) took to the Legislature this week to introduce a procedural motion that would establish a special committee to watch over the county’s law enforcement operations. If enacted, the committee would investigate and oversee different aspects of the county police department, the legislator said.

Trotta has been an outspoken critic of the police department, recently calling for the demotion of former police chief, James Burke, after his resignation amid being charged with civil rights violations and obstructing an investigation. In a statement, Trotta said there was enough evidence to support his proposed need for a committee overseeing operations of the department.

“As a result of the recent allegations of wrongdoings by top officials in the Suffolk County Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, I felt compelled to sponsor this measure to review all aspects of law enforcement operations in Suffolk County,” Trotta said.

The lawmaker said the special committee would be comprised of six members of the Legislature who would be tasked with reviewing the operations, procedures and practices of the entire police department as well as the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. The committee would also investigate allegations of favoritism, the lack of adequate rules and procedures and the failure to comply with laws already on the books relating to internal affairs investigations in the police department, Trotta said.

The Suffolk County Police Department did not respond to requests seeking comment.

“As a retired Suffolk County detective who was assigned to the FBI’s Long Island task force for 10 years and now as a legislator, I feel it is incumbent upon me to try to rectify the situation created by a few bad apples in various departments,” Trotta said.

The county Legislature scheduled a review of the procedural motion at its public safety committee meeting today, Feb. 4, at 9:30 a.m. If put into effect, the committee would be empowered to administer oaths and affirmations, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers related to the review and investigation. It will have subpoena power with approval of the Legislature and will hold meetings and hearings as needed. In addition, the committee is authorized to hire the necessary staff to conduct its investigation, subject to appropriations by the Legislature, according to Trotta’s statement.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, second from right, calls for a federal monitor to oversee the county police department in the wake of recent scandals. Photo from Suffolk County Republicans

North Shore lawmakers are calling on the federal government to keep a closer watch on the county police department.

At a press conference last week, Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) stood beside Republican minority leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) at the William Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to call for heightened oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department via a federal monitor. Their pleas came in light of a recent investigation and indictment of former county Police Chief James Burke, who was accused of beating a handcuffed suspect and attempting to cover up the crime.

During the press conference, numerous members of the Republican Caucus made it clear that both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Tim Sini needed to speak up about what they know — if anything — regarding the alleged malfeasance of the department, given that their positions were so intimately tied to its internal mechanisms.

Trotta said that as more facts related to Burke roll out, it has become more apparent that the problem needs to be addressed by a federal monitor. He and his colleagues argued that federal involvement would allot the best resources available to the investigation and also instill an element of objectivity.

“I want the monitor to come in to make sure that everything in the internal affairs department is running correctly,” Trotta said at the press conference. “I want the monitor to come in and say that the person appointed to be police commissioner is qualified.”

Bellone ensured that a monitor will be established as soon as possible.

Bellone tapped Tim Sini to become Suffolk County police commissioner after serving as Bellone’s chief criminal justice advisor since August 2014.

Before his tenure as Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for public safety, Sini served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2014, specializing in violent crimes, gang prosecutions and large-scale narcotics cases.

“When looking for a police commissioner, I am seeking someone with character, experience and vision, and Tim Sini has all three,” Bellone said. “Tim is a man of real integrity with a strong sense of justice. Tim Sini has a unique blend of law enforcement experience as a federal prosecutor combined with a keen understanding of Suffolk County’s law enforcement community by serving as my top law enforcement advisor.”

But McCaffrey argued at the press conference that there was no time for “on-the-job training” when one is elevated to the level of commissioner of the county police department. McCaffrey argued that Sini is inexperienced, making it that much more essential that federal investigators seek out accountability.

“This is not a political issue, it is one of public safety and the integrity of our government,” McCaffrey said. “The State of New York, and now Suffolk County, is just roiling with corruption and mismanagement. The people of Suffolk County deserve much better than this, and anything less than full federal involvement will not be acceptable.”

Bruckenthal retires Saturday, Lt. Bill Ricca to take helm

Northport Village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal will retire on Saturday. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport Village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal will be retiring on Saturday, Sept. 26, ending a career of nearly four decades of policing the village’s streets.

Lieutenant Bill Ricca will be taking over at the helm. The lieutenant said he is looking forward to continuing the chief’s work.

“He’s done such a great job here; he’s made this a model department,” Ricca said in a recent sit-down interview. “[There will] be very few changes when I take over.”

Bruckenthal, 62, has spent 37 of his 39 years in law enforcement at Northport Village Police Department. He has been chief for the last 15 years, after working his way up the ladder. He began his career as an officer and rose to sergeant and then lieutenant. He resides in Northport with his wife Patricia, and they had four kids, Noa Beth, Nathan, Matthew and Michael. Nathan was killed in action in Iraq as a coastguardsman in 2004.

Bruckenthal grew up in Queens. He graduated from Queens College and then attended John Jay College, where he received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and police science. From there, he took the first police job he was offered, in Asharoken Village.

“It was very quiet, and in the winter it was dead,” the chief said. “I wanted a little more activity. So in 1978, I had the opportunity to come here. Northport then was a lot different than it is today.”

He said that downtown Northport used to have a “tremendous” number of bars. Bruckenthal said with a laugh that there were quite a number of bar fights back then, but that has changed due to a big decrease in the number of bars in the village now. While he doesn’t know why the dynamic of Northport has changed, he thinks it has to do with more and more people realizing that Northport is a unique spot.

“That has changed the environment here,” he said.

Bruckenthal said being involved with the community is the best way to run a successful police department.

“I really believe interacting with people, just talking with people and getting out of the police car, is the best police work you can do. It’s a small department, so I try to encourage the officers to tell me what they are interested in, so maybe we can do something with their interests that’s going to help the department and the community.”

For example, one officer under Bruckenthal’s command is a former Eagle Scout, so he attends all the Eagle Scout presentations. Other officers interact with the schools in Northport, because they have children that are in all the different schools within the district. He thinks this management strategy helps connect cops to their community.

Bruckenthal has enjoyed working with the administration at Northport Village Hall and said “they really do have the community and the village in their best interests.”

Henry Tobin, deputy mayor of Northport Village, said that Bruckenthal would be deeply missed.

“One reason Ric has been loved by the village and supported so strongly through tough times is because the people know he has no personal agenda,” Tobin said in a phone interview. “He is motivated by what is best for the village.”

Tobin acknowledges that the village is fortunate, however, to be gaining a chief in Ricca.

“He is a deeply felt member of the community. He is dedicated to public service, fairness and empathy,” he said.

In terms of improvements he’s made to the department, Bruckenthal touted a number.

“I think we’ve better trained our people in first aid, CPR, and AEDs (automatic external defibrillators),” Bruckenthal said. “That was always something I thought was very important. I was the first EMT in the department. We handle a significant amount of aided cases. If you can help the person more than just saying, ‘hurry up with the ambulance,’ I always thought that was important.”

Bruckenthal and Ricca have both personally made several saves using CPR, which they consider highlights of their careers.

Ricca, 49, has been a part of the department for 24 years. He and his wife Dawn have five kids: Joe, Nicole, Dominic, Angelina and Steven. Ricca worked as a police officer in New York City with the K-9 Unit, with canine partners Sparky and Sherlock. Sparky was a German Shepherd and Sherlock was a bloodhound.

“The dogs and you are a team,” Ricca said. “Your dogs come home with you. It was probably the most fun I’ve had being a cop.”

In 1991, he came out to Northport as a police officer, and quickly became the firearms instructor for the department. He has taken on more responsibilities since then as the department trainer.

“In a small department like this, when an opportunity comes around here to do something specialized, you’re excited to grab it,” Ricca said. “Under Chief Bruckenthal, he’s been very aggressive in sending guys out to do training.”

Ricca has been taking over Bruckenthal’s duties and day-to-day activities for a few weeks now, and once he officially becomes chief on Sept. 27, he will fully take over administrative duties at the department. He doesn’t think the Northport Village Board will replace him with a new lieutenant immediately after he is promoted.

When asked why he was first interested in becoming the new chief, Ricca said, “I was always an ambitious person. I never sat down and said ‘good enough.’ I think I make a good leader.”

Ricca thoroughly enjoys working in Northport.

“I love to be a cop where I live,” he said. “I walk downtown almost daily and stick my head into the stores, say hello to the store owners, say hello to the shoppers. It makes my day, it’s my favorite part of working with the police department in Northport.”

Ricca hopes to build an even stronger bond with the community as chief, with potential events like coffee with a cop.

“We can’t do this job ourselves. We can answer calls and catch bad guys, but we need their support. We do public service 90 percent of the time. And we don’t want the people to be afraid to call us.”