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Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

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July 29 was a hot day as 30 dogs and their owners stopped by Paws of War in the Nesconset Shopping Center for an important mission. 

They were there for a free microchip and pet identification service event hosted by Paws of War, which trains and places support dogs with U.S. military veterans. The event was sponsored by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. and Robert Misseri, president and founder of Paws of War, pictured right, were on hand to greet owners and pets.

For three hours, attendees took their dogs inside the Paws of War Mobile Veterinary Clinic to receive the microchips, which are implanted into their skin behind the shoulder blades. The size of a large grain of rice, microchip implants are radio frequency identification tags that provide a permanent form of identification and track a pet’s movements.

When an animal is lost, a microchip scanner can identify to whom a pet belongs. The sheriff’s office’s Lost Pet Network database can also track and locate lost pets when they are microchipped.

A lost pet can wind up in an animal shelter if an owner is not found. Approximately 10 million pets in this country are lost each year, according to the nonprofit American Humane Society’s website (humanesociety.org). The nonprofit also states that out of the lost pets in shelters with no ID tags or microchips, only 15 % of dogs and 2 % of cats are reunited with their owners.

Participants at the July 29 event received an ID card and were also able to receive free dog food, leashes, collars and more.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office will sponsor two more free microchipping events for residents Aug. 11 outside the Yaphank Correctional Facility, 200 Glover Drive, and Sept. 17 in Patchogue, location still to be determined.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks at the 2019 Sandy Hook Promise Gala. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

By Donna Deedy

People are calling for reform after the recent onslaught of mass shootings that included an elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young children and two teachers were gunned down in their classroom with an automatic assault rifle.

“We’re seeing an absolute epidemic and the loss and slaughter of innocence and it has to stop,” said New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). Corporate greed, he said, has mixed into a movement that has become very confused. “People are identifying with weapons.”

Englebright pointed out Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) response to the latest school tragedy. According to a June 6 press release, she “signed a landmark legislative package to immediately strengthen the state’s gun laws, close critical loopholes exposed by shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde and protect New Yorkers from the scourge of gun violence.”

What exactly can a person do to reverse the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing the nation?  

The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise has outlined a comprehensive response to that very question. Founded by some of the parents whose first graders were murdered in their Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the group has taken a holistic approach to the situation and they say they are leading out of love. Their programs combine community awareness and mental health research with effective prevention strategies, while separately advocating for sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies. 

“Take your heartache, your fear, your anger and sadness, and channel them into action,” said Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, co-founders and CEOs of Sandy Hook Promise, who each lost a son in the Newtown tragedy. “We must take action today and every day until this epidemic of violence ends.”

So far, more than 14 million people and 23,000 schools nationwide have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs, according to their website, which has led to 115,000 anonymous tips and reportedly resulted in 321 confirmed lives saved with crisis interventions.

Here in Suffolk County, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) launched Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs initiative in 2018, his first year in office. 

“After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I made school safety a priority for the Sheriff’s Office,” Toulon said.

Over the last few years, county officers have trained more than 30,000 students, teachers and staff with Sandy Hook’s methods. Miller Place, East Islip, Central Islip, Lindenhurst and Bridgehampton are a few school districts that have participated in the program.

Toulon said he’s proud to have partnered with the Sandy Hook foundation and encourages more people to participate in its lifesaving movement. 

“Now, more than ever, programs like Sandy Hook Promise are needed as school threats are on the rise,” he said.

TBR News Media reached out to few school districts in our circulation area for comments on their programs. Through their public relations firm, Smithtown Central School District preferred not participate in the story but it posts position papers on mental health and social and emotional learning on the district’s website. Three Village said it is not affiliated with Sandy Hook Promise. We did not receive a response to follow-up questions about their programs before press deadlines. 

Sandy Hook Promise encourages anyone interested in pursuing community support for its programs to become a “promise leader” by registering on its website. 

Here’s a brief overview of Sandy Hook Promise programs:

There are four distinct programs developed by educators with expertise in curriculum development. All of it is accessible in person or online via Sandy Hook Promise’s Learning Center at no cost. Their award-winning programs include lesson plans, activities, games and discussion guides. Anyone who registers on the group’s website, www.sandyhookpromise.org, can access the charity’s free digital library that includes training sessions. The Start with Hello and Say Something programs both fall under the umbrella of the organization’s Know the Signs program. 

Start with Hello 

Start with Hello teaches children and youth how to minimize social isolation and empathize with others to create a more socially inclusive and connected culture. That lesson is explained in three steps: 1. See someone alone; 2. Reach out and help; 3. Start with Hello. 

Say Something

Experts say that people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others often show warning signs before they carry out an act of violence. Sandy Hook Promises trains middle school and high school students to spot these signs and do something about it. This program also follows a three-step approach: 1. Recognize the signs of someone at risk, especially on social media; 2. Act immediately and take it seriously; 3. Learn how to intervene by telling a trusted adult or by using the program’s anonymous reporting system. 

Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System can be used when students see classmates who are at risk of harming themselves or others. It requires additional training for school district personnel and local law enforcement. It is reportedly the only anonymous reporting system in the U.S. that offers training along with a mobile app, a website and a hotline — exclusively for schools. 

The charity also runs its National Crisis Center that operates 24/7, 365 days a year. Experienced crisis counselors trained in suicide prevention, crisis management and mental health support respond to the tips. 

So far more than 120 school districts participate in this program, along with the states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A webform is available for schools and agencies interested in registering for access to this system. 

SAVE Promise Club

Students interested in starting a club or leading a committee within an existing club receive, at no cost, tools from Sandy Hook Promise, so they can plan activities that promote kindness and inclusiveness to instill the value of looking out for one another in their community. The club, called Students Against Violence Everywhere, is supported by a contract with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe & Supportive Schools and can be accessed from the government’s website:  safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/resources. The initiative reinforces the key messages of the Start with Hello and Say Something programs.  

Gun safety policies

The mission of Sandy Hook Promise is to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. It advocates what it calls sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies to support that goal. They’ve created a sister organization, called an action fund, that works to pass legislation that advances school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention issues. 

“We believe in protecting the second amendment,” said Aimee Thunberg, Sandy Hook Promise’s media contact. “But we support policies that promote safe gun ownership to keep our children and communities safe.”

The group supports the bipartisan background check legislation that recently passed in the House of Representatives, but still needs Senate attention. The organization also supports extreme risk protection orders, or red-flag laws, that allows family and law enforcement to seek the court’s help to temporarily separate people in crisis from firearms. New York State’s red-flag law was implemented in August 2019 with roughly 160 weapons seized in Suffolk County, more than any other county in the state.  The organization also advocates bans on assault-style weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines to prevent more mass shootings.

Anyone who wants to, can get involved to help the Sandy Hook mission. In addition to programs for parents, students, teachers and other youth organizations, Sandy Hook Promise welcomes volunteers to help showcase their programs at community events to build better awareness. 

Otherwise, in response to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Sandy Hook Promise has compiled a list of very specific things people can do to help end gun violence. It’s available at www.sandyhookpromise.org/blog/gun-violence/what-you-can-do-right-now-to-help-end-gun-violence. 

“Our key message is that gun violence is preventable, and we have actions that every individual can take in their family, community, schools and with politicians,” said Nicole Hockley in a recent blog post.  “Don’t back away. Be part of the solution.”

TBR News Media asks readers who have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs to email us at [email protected] and let us know about your experience.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

By Rich Acritelli

In honor of Black History Month, Errol Toulon Jr. (D), of Lake Grove, is the first African American Suffolk County sheriff. Ever since his youth through the lessons that he learned from his father, Toulon has been motivated to achieve his duty and responsibilities.  

As a kid, he asked his father, a longtime correction officer, what he did for a living. His dad replied, “We rehabilitate individuals that are incarcerated, we never throw away the key and we try to help these people safely return back to society.” 

The story of Toulon Jr. began in the Bronx, where he was born in 1962, and he lived in the city until 1990. 

Yankee batboy

Errol Toulon Jr. as a Yankee batboy. Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

A talented baseball player who excelled as a center fielder and a leadoff hitter during his high school and college years, Toulon had the unique chance of being a batboy for the New York Yankees in 1979 through 1980.  

He was in the locker room to observe the impressive leadership skills and character of the late Yankee great catcher Thurman Munson. In the Bronx, Toulon watched Billy Martin manage the baseball stars of Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, and he also met boxing champ Roberto Durán.  

As a young man in the Yankee Clubhouse, Toulon encountered a young boy, and asked him his name. It was Hal Steinbrenner, who now owns the team after his father George. 

The former batboy ended up becoming the first African American sheriff of Suffolk County, and had a wonderful time being welcomed back by senior management of the Yankees. Players like Ron Blomberg and Mickey Rivers were pleased to see their former batboy who has always worked to protect his community. Still to this day, Toulon is an avid baseball fan who glowingly recalls his special time in pinstripes around the “Boys of Summer.”

City correction officer

Errol Toulon Jr., left, with Hal Steinbrenner, general partner of the New York Yankees.
Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

During those earlier years, Toulon took the city correction officer exam, after he completed an associate’s degree in business.  As a 20-year-old, he became one of the youngest recruits within the New York City Department of Correction.  

He observed the older jails that were built from the 1930s through 1960s, were cold, secured with steel, and lacking any of the advancements of the penitentiaries of today. Early in his career, Toulon was impacted by watching inmates hold few liberties and living in poor conditions. 

There were dangerous moments during fights, riots and emergencies, that saw officers isolated and unable to see each other where their own safety was compromised. Over the years, Toulon has learned from these lessons to ensure the constant support of the current officers of his department.

As a lifelong officer, a captain and official, Toulon always follow the examples that were established by his father. Toulon Sr. was employed by the NYC Department of Correction for 36 years in positions ranging from officer to a warden at Rikers Island. 

From his dad, he learned the value of attention to detail and always treating his staff with the utmost amount of respect. Whether it was his junior years as a correction officer or as the present Suffolk County sheriff, Toulon never loses focus on the evolving complexities of operating the county system of imprisonment. Over the past decades, he has been involved in hostage crisis, handling drug abuse, attempted escapes, and seizure of guns and contraband that were smuggled into jails by prisoners.

Suffolk County sheriff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo administers the oath of office to Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. during his inauguration ceremony in 2018. Toulon was joined by his wife Tina. File photo by Kevin Redding

Toulon has always believed in the necessity in analyzing the complexity of criminal justice problems that are always evolving. There was recently a major riot in St. Louis, where the inmates broke windows and set debris on fire. Always understanding the usefulness of information, Toulon’s Sheriff’s Office examines these situations by calling different corrections agencies around the country. They try to determine the root of local or national incidents and utilize these resources to be prepared to sufficiently handle these concerns in Suffolk County.  

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has worked with him through their tenures in office.

“Sheriff Toulon leads a proud department of men and women dedicated to upholding the law and running the Suffolk County Correctional Facility,” she said. 

There is always the major process of investigating prisoner grievances over health care, food, communication with family members, religious services and more. Toulon tries to improve these concerns before they materialize into a major crisis. 

During his career, he has dealt with the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks and the health implications within the jail environment. Through the determination to always contain the strength of these sicknesses, protective measures were already established within the county jails before the first COVID-19 case hit New York in last March.  

Due to the pandemic, new ways had to be developed to handle the services that were needed for the prisoners. Toulon’s office made a goal in always sharing current information on the threats and changes that COVID-19 presented to both the outside world and the jails. The virus prevented family visits, but prisoners were allocated two extra calls a week, pictures of loved ones were printed for inmates, and there were virtual substance and psychological programs. 

Professional and educational experiences

Errol Toulon Jr. with Yankees Mickey Rivers and Ron Bloomberg

Education has always been an important part of Toulon’s life which he has incorporated into his many correctional positions. He has a doctorate in educational administration, an advanced certificate in Homeland Security Management and an MBA.  

Since his election as sheriff, Toulon has spoken to many educational programs with local school districts to address the daily concerns that his department handles, always with a positive demeanor. 

VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point Comdr. Joe Cognitore has always viewed Toulon “as an upstanding and an energetic people person that has always protected our residents, worked well with community leaders, aided veterans that have fallen on criminal times in jail, and he has helped create local 9/11 memorials.”

For two years, Toulon taught at Dowling College as an adjunct faculty member. He planned to instruct students at St. John’s University, but was unable to do so due to his present position.  

Harvard University has invited Toulon to address its student body on his professional and educational experiences. While he enjoys his current position and is hopeful that he will be reelected to another term, Toulon enjoys teaching, and he would like to teach again. A leader with a tremendous amount of energy, there have been some personal battles that he has had to endure as a survivor of pancreatic cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Whereas Toulon is determined to have a secure prison system within the county, provide resources and support for his officers, he also wants to ensure that prisoners do not return. Through the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team, known as the START program, correction officers help inmates find housing, jobs, medical services and food, and to become productive and safe citizens. 

Sheriffs’ offices around the state have said they are not enforcing or it’s difficult to enforce a state executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. File photo

Last week, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department posted to its Facebook page that it would not be participating in the enforcement of limitations of Thanksgiving gatherings.

The responsibility to enforce the executive order that took effect Nov. 13 in New York state, limiting private gatherings to 10 people or less to help curb the increase of coronavirus infections, will fall on the Suffolk County and East End police departments this holiday. While many commented on the Facebook post that they were thankful to hear of the sheriff’s decision, others felt the department has an obligation to enforce the state’s rules.

Despite nonenforcement on the sheriff’s department’s part, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said in an email that it has been the department’s policy to encourage responsible behavior since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We do that here at the correctional facility in Suffolk County by enforcing mask wearing and social distancing, and advise staff to stay home if they are ill or have come in contact with someone with COVID-19,” he said. “I strongly urge our residents here to do the same. Do not put yourselves or your families at risk.”

Toulon added that law enforcement and military members, as well as other professionals, “sacrifice time with their families during holidays and our residents need to make responsible decisions.”

Several sheriffs’ offices and elected officials across the state have announced they are not enforcing the executive order or have said it’s difficult to enforce. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed the problem of enforcing the 10-person rule at his Nov. 23 media briefing, saying he didn’t understand how they were choosing not to enforce the law.

“I believe that law enforcement officer violates his or her constitutional duty,” Cuomo said, adding the officers don’t have the right to choose what laws they enforce. As an example, he presented the scenario of what would happen if officers decided they didn’t think cocaine should be illegal.

Cuomo added even though many residents believe they can’t be told what to do in their own houses, laws apply both outside and inside of homes such as domestic and drug laws.

“I’m telling you that you are responsible for your actions and here are the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie and this is the increase before any other increase from Thanksgiving, and if you increase social activity then you’re going to see the number go further up,” the governor said.

According to a statement from the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, sheriffs from across the state have responded to thousands of violation complaints since the first COVID-19 orders were issued and have been doing what they can to address the complaints.

“The criminal laws have very limited applicability with respect to those complaints, and in most cases use of the criminal laws would be unwise,” the statement read.

The statement went on to say that most residents have been following the health directives regarding the coronavirus, and the executive order which limits nonessential private residential gatherings to 10 people or less “has caused great consternation among many of our citizens, who envision armed officers arriving at their doors to count the number of people around the Thanksgiving table.” The association said it would also be difficult to determine how many people in a household are guests, and whether or not a gathering is essential or nonessential without violating a citizen’s right to privacy.

“Many sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders have felt compelled to allay those concerns by assuring citizens that officers will not be randomly coming to their homes on Thanksgiving Day to count the number of people inside,” the statement read. “That would be neither practical nor constitutional.”

Several hundred protesters stood along Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook June 7 to protest police violence and racism after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Sunday marks nearly a week of constant protests all across Long Island. Photo by Mike Reilly

George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis two weeks ago spurred nationwide protests and renewed conversations on police brutality and systemic racism in this country. TBR News Media reached out to prominent leaders in the black community to get their perspective on what needs to change and what immediate actions can be taken as we move forward. Here’s what they had to say.

Al Jordan. Photo from Stony Brook University

Al Jordan, clinical associate professor at Stony Brook Medicine and former dean for Student and Minority Affairs: 

We will need to work on life after the protests end, that’s when the hard work really starts. We will really need to see change in policy and in laws, not just on the national level but the local level as well. 

Voter registration — getting more people to vote — is the most immediate change we can work on right now. It will take educating people, including family, friends and community members. It means engaging with people, it’s tough work but people can listen and be persuaded. Some may not, but it is another effective way of change. 

You look at the segregation on Long Island, whether it’s in housing or in school districts, the racial, social and economic disparities — it feeds into the larger issue. 

When it comes to training police officers, it has to begin with the individual person. What’s on their mind, how do they feel? Act on that framework. You also have to change the people who run things and who are at the top. 

I’m optimistic, I believe in people. I see it in the young people, something that’s different from what I and others were doing in the 1960s. They have been able to bridge the gap, that cultural divide, and been able to find that common ground. 

It has given me a lot of hope, seeing these young people like my own grandchildren engaging in these positive activities and important discussions. 

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon. Photo by Kevin Redding

Errol Toulon Jr. (D), Suffolk County sheriff: 

All law enforcement need to reevaluate how they train their officers and how they operate. I don’t know how an officer with 18 prior complaints was allowed to continue to interact with the public. 

Unfortunately, due to this recent incident and others like it, mistrust toward law enforcement is at an all-time high. We need to work together to regain that trust. 

It’s having a conversation with them. It starts by talking to them and hearing their concerns, answering their questions and hopefully giving them a good understanding of what we do. 

99 percent of police officers who come to work to serve and protect are good men and women. But those who do wrong need to be held accountable. Supervisors need to be held accountable as well. 

Whether it is additional training or suspension it needs to be addressed immediately. 

One thing departments and agencies can do is increase cultural awareness and diversity training. A lot of times these teachings end once they leave the door of the academy. We have to make sure that officers remain engaged with the black and minority communities. We must have respect for each other. 

Another thing is making sure we are talking to our staff — monitoring their emotional and mental well being. 

[On Monday, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office announced the creation of a community advisory board to give residents an opportunity to meet regularly with the sheriff and staff and discuss concerns. The board will consist of five people from East End townships and five from the western towns in Suffolk. Members will serve for a one-year term.

“Current events have demonstrated that people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds are frustrated with law enforcement, and they have some legitimate reasons to feel this way,” Toulon said in a release.]

Elaine Gross speaks about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism: 

There’s currently conversation changing police policy, there’s a legislative package up in Albany that will be voted on soon. I’m pleased to hear that. 

But we also need to have a conversation on how we got to where we are. There is structural racism. 

On Long Island, due to segregation in school districts,, we know public school education looks very different in terms of the resources for black and minority students compared to white students. 

This is a disparity that gets lost — people are not aware of it or just don’t want to talk about it. An education policy needs to be made a priority, and that means increasing the percentage of educators of color in the classroom — that includes Black, Latinx and Asian teachers. We have seen the benefits of students in a diverse learning environment.  

In addition to the package up in Albany, we need an independent prosecutor, not someone who works closely with the police department. We have seen so many cases where so little happens and no charges brought down [on officers accused of misconduct]. It sort of goes away. We need to continue to strengthen race crime measures and increase body cams in law enforcement. 

I’ve had forums with high school students in the past on structural racism, and I believe students are beginning to have a better understanding of what’s happening in the world and are more open to it than adults. I look to the students and young people to carry the movement forward. 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. Photo by Phil Corso

Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Town councilwoman (D-Port Jefferson Station): 

It is clear that there is a movement happening, people are stepping up and saying, “Enough is enough.” 

For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the George Floyd incident showed white people in this country what it is like to be black in America. Now our voices are being heard. 

There is legislation being passed in New York State that I support that is moving us in the right direction, but it is only scratching the surface. It is a good first step. We need to acknowledge these injustices and take immediate action. 

We should have already had access to disciplinary records of officers — this information should have been made public. Also, we need to change the police culture. We need to make sure police officers feel comfortable in speaking out against bad officers. We have to have strong whistleblower protection. 

I have represented [as an attorney] police officers who have spoken up about their comrades and they often face retaliation for violating or going against the brotherhood. 

The majority of police officers are good people but if we don’t get rid of hate, racism and discrimination in these departments then we are never going to change the system. 

I’m asking everybody to join in this movement, so we can be heard as one voice.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks during a media event at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. File photo by Kevin Redding

While jails and prisons across the country have seen a rise in COVID-19 in their facilities, the Suffolk County Correctional Facilities in Riverhead and Yaphank have seen significantly lower cases. Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) credits early usage of face covering, frequent sanitation and social distancing practices. 

To date, only one inmate has contracted COVID-19 while at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility and one inmate entered the jail already carrying the virus. The average daily inmate population is 515. Less than 2 percent, or 21 correctional staff out of 858 has come down with coronavirus.  

The sheriff also reported four deputies out of 252 contracted the virus and only one civilian employee of 130 was confirmed with COVID-19. They only have nine coronavirus cases of officers. Currently, the facilities have no COVID-19 positives. 

Toulon said that since everyone is required to wear face coverings and that social distancing is enforced throughout the facilities, coronavirus hasn’t spread inside the two jails like it has elsewhere. He added it “should serve as an example” for the general public that COVID-19 can be controlled by following the advice of public health officials.  

“I think if more people knew how we have controlled the spread of COVID-19 inside the jails by wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance from others, that people would understand that they do have some control if they take personal responsibility,” he said. “The mixed messages have put too many people in danger, led to further spread of the virus, and it has caused immeasurable damage to the economy.”  

In April, a state court denied the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County’s request to free around 120 inmates over coronavirus fears. The State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen claimed the decision was, in part, because of the jail’s success in halting the spread of the virus. The legal aid society was, however, successful in securing release of many other inmates held on noncriminal parole violations. 

The numbers are significant, especially compared to other jails in New York. The New York Times reported May 20 that 1,259 of New York City’s 9,680 correction officers and their supervisors have caught the virus, while at least six have died. To note, however, there are thousands more inmates in city jails compared to Suffolk County’s facilities.

County Sheriff, Corrections Officers Say Judges Need Discretion

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

Depending on who you ask, New York State’s new bail reform is either halting an institution that punished the poor, or it is allowing alleged criminals to return to and terrorize local neighborhoods. 

Back in 2018, after Democrats gained control of both state legislative houses, bail reform became a priority issue for multiple Dems in the State Legislature, with the bail reform coming in as an addendum to the state budget bill. The reform forces judges to release alleged perps without bail for multiple misdemeanors and what are considered nonviolent felony charges.

Over the last few months, on judges’ orders, jails across the state have been releasing inmates who fall under the list of bail-less crimes. In an interview Monday, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D), whose office oversees the jails in Suffolk County, said approximately 301 inmates have already been released from Suffolk custody over the past month leading up to the law’s enactment. This comes after court orders from judges across the state. He added there is another expected 10 to 15 inmates that will be released this month.

“The biggest thing with this legislation is to give judges back discretion — they can look at criminal history, if they are mentally ill or have a serious substance abuse issue.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. 

Proponents of bail reform have long argued the previous system effectively taxed poor defendants for accused crimes. They argued that people and their families who could not afford bail would languish in jail until their court date, such as the case of Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who was stuck in Rikers Island prison for three years, unable to pay the $3,000 bail price until 2013 when he was released due to lack of evidence. He later committed suicide.

Bail costs can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars and are determined by individual judges. People can also make use of a bail bondsman, but fees for those can still be several thousand, plus the money upfront to ensure a person meets their requisite court dates.

A report by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the originally proposed bail reforms said that if enacted reforms were around in 2018, there would have been 20,349 more individuals in New York City released without bail, a cumulative amount worth nearly $200 million to the state. In 2018, 105,161 cases resulted in pretrial release without bail.

Leading state Democrats have said the reforms are long overdue, and specifically target nonviolent offenses. Advocates pointed out that poor people unable to make bail can easily lose jobs if they’re not available or stuck in jail, and that those who have to pay for bail on a limited income, even for minor offenses, might be forced to use funds they would have used for rent or even food.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the critics are unnecessarily stoking fears. 

In a statement, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York American Civil Liberties Union, said the new reforms are just a step on the path toward overall prison reforms.

“Thousands of New Yorkers who are presumed innocent of the misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges they face will no longer be forced to sit in jail awaiting trial,” her statement read.

However, the law enforces no cash bail for several offenses that critics have called overtly aggressive. James Quinn, Queens assistant district attorney, released a list of laws judges cannot set bail to, including aggravated vehicular manslaughter, several types of drug sale crimes and even lesser counts of arson. 

Toulon said he has disagreed with the new bail reforms, especially over the list of crimes people are made to be released. He mentioned one inmate who was just recently released on a partially secured bond of $40,000 out of a $400,000 bail order, without a bail bondsman. The individual, he said, had been accused of rape in the first degree of a child, and had a past history of sex crimes.

He said any sort of new bail legislation should give judges more jurisdiction over determining bail.

“The biggest thing with this legislation is to give judges back discretion — they can look at criminal history, if they are mentally ill or have a serious substance abuse issue,” he said.

State legislators are divided on party lines over the new bail reform. A delegation of Republican state reps from Long Island gathered Dec. 31 to voice their opposition.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the senate minority leader, called the new law “unconscionable,” adding the opposing party has “abandoned crime victims, law enforcement and the public in favor of criminals.”

The delegation noted two criminal cases including one where a woman allegedly assaulted three Jewish women, just one of several during a citywide spree of anti-Semitic attacks during the eight days of Hanukkah. She was arrested again the following day for another assault charge. The law allows for no cash bail on offenders who commit assault without serious injury, and the new bail laws have been enforced since late 2019.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the new law goes against common sense.

“Judges should have discretion in weighing the potential danger of releasing someone who could have violent tendencies or constitutes a real threat to our community,” LaValle said.

Law enforcement groups have also vocalized their frustrations with the bill. 

Louis Viscusi, union president of the Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, said the law doesn’t just force cashless bail for nonviolent offenders, but for drug dealers, sex offenders and gang members.

“A lot of people commit crimes to help fuel that habit,” he said. “At [a corrections facility] they could detox and could make better decisions. This new bail reform removes those options.”

Louis Viscusi

He added he saw Suffolk County actually using the system in the way it was meant to, with the county corrections facility including 24-hour medical care and a space for drug and alcohol addiction. Within the facilities in both Yaphank and Riverhead, he said, inmates could come down from their high and make more informed decisions once or if they are released on bail. Without it, those same people might be out on the street making the same decisions that got them arrested in the first place. 

“A lot of people commit crimes to help fuel that habit,” he said. “At [a corrections facility] they could detox and could make better decisions. This new bail reform removes those options.”

For decades, New York judges were supposed to consider only risk of flight when determining bail, not public safety or safety of the individual. The new law encourages a supervised release program, where municipalities are meant to keep in touch with those accused. 

Toulon echoed Viscusi’s comments, adding his term has focused on giving inmates transferable skills such as plumbing or work with HVAC for when they return to society. He added the new law presents issues for people who may need added protection, such as women who were arrested for crimes, but were subdued in human and sex trafficking schemes. Women who are trafficked are often forcefully addicted to drugs to keep them under control. 

Proponents of the new law point to New Jersey, which has had a similar bail reform bill since 2017, and which a court report showed that while jail populations waned, people still were showing up for their assigned court dates. Unlike Jersey, New York did not have a three-year window between when the law was passed and enacted.

Though Republican officials have looked to paint the issue as a party split, some Democrats have proposed changes to the existing bail reform law. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), along with Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) introduced legislation back in June 2019 that would expand the list of qualifying offenses that judges can determine pretrial requirements, to include assault, manslaughter, sex crimes including against children, terrorism-related charges, all class-A felony drug-related crimes and bribery offenses involving public officials. The bill was introduced but could not be taken up until the State Legislature reconvened on Jan. 8.

“When an individual poses a clear danger to public safety, an unbiased judicial expert must have the discretion to choose whether or not to release them without bail,” Gaughran said in a statement back in June. 

 

Nonprofit Accepts Grant Funds for Postage Costs

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) talks with Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore while Greg Thompson, right, and Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino, back, work to pack boxes for Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino watched with awe last week as women older than he worked like machines on an assembly line and prepared care packages for troops as part of a volunteer group called Operation Veronica that works out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point. 

Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino helps pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sorrentino serves in the Air National Guard as a technical sergeant out of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton and has routinely flown military aircraft in state and federal missions, supported space shuttle launches, flown in rescue missions with hurricanes Irma and Maria and was sent to Djibouti, Africa, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Still, he couldn’t help but be impressed by the group’s energy.

“It’s really efficient,” Sorrentino said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of getting care packages, and it’s awesome — its greatly appreciated.”

Multiple members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr (D), visited Operation Veronica during its regular Friday meeting a few days after Veterans Day. Members of the department helped put together boxes of care packages, which can include snacks, toiletries or other personalized items that can give a little bit of comfort to men and women stationed overseas.

Nearly every Friday since 2005, close to 20 women spend several hours putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas. 

Janet Godfrey, a Wading River resident and founder of the group, explained to their visitors how they pack boxes under a certain weight to avoid excess postage fees. Volunteers also showed the sheriff’s department staff how they create survival bracelets out of 550 paracord, the same rope used for paratroopers during World War II, and polar fleece sweaters for soldiers out in deserts that may become freezing at night. 

Greg Thompson, a deputy sheriff who is currently a reservist machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard, was also impressed at the skill and attentiveness of the women at Operation Veronica.

“I think this is amazing, absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Toulon called the group extremely efficient in, “not only just the assembly line, but the coordination of the organization, and really it’s just the effort — to say to these vets we’re thinking about them, we’re caring for them and we’re praying for them.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon assists pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

He expects the sheriff’s department to collaborate with Operation Veronica in the near future, by either donating goods or assisting in getting the boxes shipped abroad. 

In 2018 TBR News Media recognized Operation Veronica as one the newspaper’s People of the Year. Since then, Godfrey said the group has picked up steam and is still managing to send out hundreds of items week after week.

“We are busier than ever,” Godfrey said.

Funding is always difficult, especially in the shipping department, though the women of Operation Veronica often donate their time and buy their own goods to go in the boxes, as shipping can be upward of $70 for a heavier box.

“The women in this room come in to work, they do everything out of their own pockets,” she said. “They have passed the hat to pay postage at the end of the day.”

Godfrey had some good news, though. She said the Port Jefferson-based Richard & Mary Morrison Foundation has agreed to pay for the costs of shipping, which the Operation Veronica founder said can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 a year. 

“They have promised to pay our postage however high it goes,” she added. 

For more information about Operation Veronica, visit www.operationveronica.org/.

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

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A lucky group of North Coleman Road Elementary School third-graders received a visit March 8 from Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. as part of the New York State Pick a Reading Partner program. The program encourages reading together for at least 20 minutes daily, stressing that reading can be fun and informative, and also that it is the most important activity in a child’s education.

Students picked Dr. Seuss books for Toulon to read to them including “Fox in Socks,” a book full of tongue twisters.

“I loved it,” Toulon said. “I thought the kids were very happy that I was there.”

The county sheriff stated that these events are opportunities for law enforcement to talk to the youth in the community.

“For me, it is important for us as members of the sheriff’s office to get into the community and be able to talk to kids of all ages from grade school to high school to make sure [they know] who the law enforcement is, and break down any barriers and feel comfortable coming to talk to a law enforcement person.”

Toulon also stressed the importance of reading to children.

“Being a former educator — I hold a doctorate in education — it is extremely important that we emphasize reading and reading books, not necessarily from a computer, tablet or phone,” Toulon said. “Because this is the basis that will help them get through life.”

Third-grade teacher Christina Anderson had similar sentiments saying that reading is vital to a child’s development and that it can open many doors for them.

“I was happy he was able to come today — I think the class really enjoyed the experience,” she said.

PARP was first developed in 1978 by state Sen. James Donovan, who was the chairman of the State Senate Education Committee. Since 1987, the NYS PTA has continued to administer the program.

“Hopefully I can do something like this in a few more schools in the future,” said Toulon.