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Stuart Cameron

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right. File photo

With protests and violence rocking several cities, including New York City, after the videotaped killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called the officer’s actions a type of racism.

“Perhaps the most disturbing thing” about the way now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is now in jail on charges of third-degree murder, acted is the “lack of concern that this officer showed in knowing that he was being videotaped,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. “That suggests this officer felt that there was no accountability.”

In calling the actions of Chauvin structural racism, Bellone pointed to a Newsday investigation that revealed a similar type of racism and discrimination in the housing industry on Long Island.

While Suffolk County has made “an incredible amount of progress, we clearly have much more work to do,” Bellone said.

The county executive said he understood the protests that have taken place in response to videos that showed Chauvin kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed Floyd, whose pleas that he couldn’t breathe went unheeded.

Bellone, however, said overrunning a police station “can not happen” and expressed his support for the vast majority of police officers who are “hard working, dedicated professionals who are putting their own safety on the line to protect us.”

In a statement she read during the media call, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Floyd’s death was “an outrage” and was “unacceptable.” She condemned the tragic killing, while adding that she holds the officers of the Suffolk County Police Department to the “highest standards.”

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron, who has been on the force for over 35 years, described how he has been in situations where people resisted his efforts to arrest them.

Force is a “last resort,” Cameron said. Officers are trained to “use the bare minimum force necessary to get someone into custody.”

Cameron has never put a knee to another person’s neck and said he had never seen another police officer in the SCPD use a similar tactic during his career. Officers have not received training to pin a suspect to the ground with a knee to a handcuffed person’s neck.

Pinning someone to the ground could cause positional asphyxia, spinal damage, or can cause damage to the airway.

Cameron said he believes his officers will step in and intervene if another officer is using unnecessary or excessive force.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the state would be getting the attorney general to review procedures following the demonstrations which turned violent on Friday, with multiple instances of recorder violence against protesters and violent actions against police.

Viral Numbers

As for the COVID-19 numbers, the county has had an additional 87 positive tests, bringing the total to 38,582. That doesn’t include 13,733 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

Hospitalizations have declined by 16 to 275 as of May 28. At the same time, the number of residents with COVID-19 in ICU beds has fallen by 5 to 80.

Hospital capacity was at 65 percent for overall beds and 62 percent for ICU beds.

The number of people who have been discharged from the hospital in the last day was 27.

An additional 13 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus. The total number of deaths has reached 1,892.

Separately, the county reopened its camping reservation system yesterday at 4 p.m. Residents made 4,739 reservations for 25,608 reservation days.

“That shows the demand we have and the desire for people to get out and enjoy summer,” Bellone said. “We are going to be able to have a summer here in Suffolk County.”

Beaches, meanwhile, remain open for residents only.

Stock photo

The first day after the Stony Brook University mobile testing site started administering tests for the coronavirus Covid-19, the number of positive tests continued to build.

Earlier today, Suffolk County had 239 confirmed cases, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D). That includes 64 in Huntington, 39 in Islip, and eight in Smithtown.

Among those with the virus, 27 are in the hospital, with 7 in the intensive care unit. Public health officials said the majority of the cases remained adults.

The current treatment involves supportive management, which includes maintaining oxygenation through ventilatory support, and maintaining fluid balances, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of the county Department of Health Services, said on a conference call with reporters.

Bellone suggested that the number of cases climbs as testing increases, adding that the virus is here throughout the county and is spreading through community transmission.

Bellone urged people to keep practicing social distancing and to keep their children, who might otherwise want to congregate in larger groups amid the warmer weather and the time off from school, from gathering.

Suffolk County has tested over 1,500 people to date. Those with symptoms can call 888-364 -3065 to set up an appointment for drive thru testing at Stony Brook University’s South P Lot. Bellone has heard that people have complained about the time they need to wait for an appointment, but he asks for patience amid the growing need. He also reminded residents that they won’t necessarily get a test without medical authorization from a doctor or telephone reference.

The county’s text alert update, which residents can receive by texting CovidSuffolk to 67283, now has 26,000 people signed up, while 5,500 people have signed up to create a Smart911 profile.

The county executive said the county delivered personal protective equipment to hospitals yesterday and is continuing to make similar deliveries today.

Bellone reiterated that “experts have made clear that this virus may not reach its peak for four to five weeks. When it does, we will see the need for hospital beds to rise and potentially rise dramatically. That is an issue of great concern.”

At the same time that hospitals have been able to increase the number of beds in the county by 300, Suffolk County officials are working to identify potential spaces for future sites to treat residents who are battling the virus.

As of earlier today, Suffolk has 479 beds available, including 74 in the intensive care unit.

“The question is not what’s available now, but it’s a question of what’s going to be needed in three to five weeks,” the county executive said.

The county has considered a site adjacent to the jail in Yaphank. They have also spoken with Suffolk County Community College about evaluating space for potential future patients as well.

Despite murmurs that New York City officials are considering a shelter in place order, effectively asking residents to not leave their homes, Suffolk officials said they have no expectations of sheltering in place.

In the meantime, Suffolk County law enforcement have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, although they are seeking additional equipment in the future, according to Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron. The police are also modifying some of their procedures and are considering altering some interactions with the public.

“If we can, we are asking members [of the public] to come outside to meet our officers,” Cameron said. “We are much more able to maintain social distance outdoors and are muc less apt to be exposed to surface contamination.”

Additionally, the police department is considering requiring the public to make some routine reports by phone or through a citizen-based online reporting, instead of making it optional.

Police and PSEGLI have been trying to catch scammers pretending to be from the utility company for several years, but the con is still on the rise. Stock photo

Phone scammers have used a number of tactics to get unassuming people to hand over their money, but one con has police and a Long Island utility company especially concerned.

Some scammers have been claiming they are employees of a utility company like PSEG Long Island, and then tell a person their bill is in arrears. They threaten to turn off heat or electricity if they do not receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars, often in the form of a gift card instead of the normal check or direct deposit.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed.”

— Stuart Cameron

Such is what happened to Setauket resident Candy Maeder, who said she was called March 5 by a person claiming to be from the utility company. The man on the phone said Maeder was late on her bills and her service would be shut off in a matter of hours if she didn’t give them hundreds of dollars in cash. She said they would not even take a debit card over the phone.

“I fought with them back and forth,” the Setauket resident said. “At first, I really believed it was them.”

After hanging up the phone, and after talking with her boyfriend and also her electrician, she came to the conclusion it had been a scam. 

That day, she called PSEGLI and the police, but Maeder’s experience is all too common in the modern day — almost textbook with what others have experienced. Suffolk County police has records of the number of reports of phone scams received over the past several years. Records show the frequency of the PSEGLI scam has increased. In 2018, there were 56 reported cases of the scam throughout Suffolk. In 2019, police received 76 reports of scammers claiming they were PSEGLI, where people did not give them money. An additional 55 actually resulted in the scammers stealing money from victims for a total of 131. In January and February of this year, police have received reports of 30 scams so far.

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said scammers are always coming up with novel frauds, but the PSEGLI scam has been on the rise. Like many scams, it particularly targets the most vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, who particularly can’t afford to be out several thousand dollars as some scammers demand.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed,” he said. “Scammers play on that type of fear and embarrassment to exploit money from those residents who are probably in the worst position to lose money like this.” 

New Jersey-based PSEG has been tracking this scam even before taking over the electric infrastructure portion of LIPA’s business from National Grid in 2014. Robert Vessichelli, the senior security investigator for PSEGLI, said the actual number of people falling for the scam has decreased over the years. In 2019 the utility company received notice of 6,574 scams for the whole of Long Island, where 305 of those fell victim to the scammers. The con artists often ask for as little as a few hundred dollars and up to several thousand. 

“The best way to combat these scams is by educating the public,” Vessichelli said. “When I learn people haven’t heard of the scam, it kind of concerns us.”

Tracking these individuals is difficult, even when scammers are calling locally. While the police chief said they have made some arrests, the suspects often do a process to their phone numbers called “spoofing,” making their caller ID on answering machines appear as a completely separate number, even making it out to look like it was coming from PSEGLI or even police.

The Long Island utility company has been participating in a national campaign to promote awareness of phone scams. Utilities United Against Scams, a U.S. and Canadian consortium of utility companies, ran the campaign during National Consumer Protection Week March 1-7 to promote scam awareness. Vessichelli said the consortium uses its influence to block the numbers of callers they confirm are from scammers, but of course the perpetrators will simply move on to use a different phone number. Sometimes, these calls come from people outside the U.S. 

The scam comes in multiple forms. While often it’s a person on the phone proclaiming a bill is in arrears, con artists also conduct phishing schemes by telling people they are owed money from overpayment and ask for bank account information. They may also call saying they need a deposit for a new meter, though PSEGLI does not charge a deposit for such a thing.

“At first, I really believed it was them.”

— Candy Maeder

One of the more frightening tactics is when charlatans show up in person at people’s houses claiming they are utility employees. When such people come to the door, Vessichelli said its best to call PSEGLI to confirm those are legitimate employees. The security expert suggested if they show ID, ask to take a picture for you to send to the utility to confirm identities.

Warning signs are often readily apparent. If a resident receives a cold call without any prior email or snail mail notifications, that’s usually a bad sign. Another sure sign is if they ask for any nontraditional form of payment, such as asking you to buy gift cards which the person then asks for those to be scratched off, or a payment of cash by drop off or in person. 

These are points often seen across all sorts of scams, so police’s general advice is to not relay any kind of personal information, such as your name or the name of family members or where you live. Scammers often take private information off social media such as Facebook, so if one starts hearing familiar names, don’t take it as a sign they are who they say they are. 

PSEGLI workers are required to wear photo IDs, so in meeting one of these scammers in person, a surefire sign is if they cannot produce such an identification. 

Cameron said if one suspects a caller might be a scam, then one should hang up, get the number where called from and phone PSEGLI at 800-490-0025 or the police at 631-852-2677. For more information, visit www.psegliny.com/scam and www.utilitiesunited.org.

Police Comissioner Tim Sini speaks at a press conference about the department’s success in 2016. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We are now safer than we have ever been before in Suffolk County and that’s because of the hard work of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced recently.

Sini reported on the final 2016 crime statistics at SCPD Headquarters Jan. 6, which showed the county ended the year with the lowest levels of crime ever recorded in the history of the department — with the exception of homicides.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined the commissioner in presenting the historic crime drop.

“Public safety is my top priority,” Bellone said. “I know I speak for everyone in Suffolk County when I say we are proud of the police, proud of the work they do every day for us, proud of the courage and bravery they demonstrate and proud that they’ve clearly made the county one of the safest places to live anywhere in our country. These statistics speak very clearly about the work they’ve been doing.”

Image by Victoria Espinoza.

According to Sini, who just wrapped up his first year as the youngest SCPD commissioner ever appointed, compared to crime stats in 2015, violent crime (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) decreased by 10.9 percent and property crime went down 5.2 percent, with an overall 5.7 percent reduction of total crime.
“We see the crime going down and enforcement going up and that’s, obviously, not an accident,” Sini said. “We are a problem-solving police department. When [we] came into office here, my leadership team and I made it clear we’re going to be focused on opiate addiction, firearms and gang violence, as well as traffic fatalities.”

Under Sini’s leadership, the SCPD launched several initiatives and utilized 21st century policing methodologies that gave way to precision policing, intelligence-led policing and community-based policing.
In tackling the opiate epidemic sweeping Suffolk the last few years, Sini re-engaged a partnership with federal law enforcement officers, including five detectives, to target high-level drug dealers active in the communities.

He also loaded up on staff in the department’s narcotics section to roll out a hotline (631-852-NARC) where residents can anonymously report drug dealings going in areas where they live and even get cash rewards for any tips that lead to arrests. So far, since launching the hotline, the department has received more than 1,300 tips from anonymous civilians.

In a previous interview with TBR News Media, Sini said the hotline has led to a 140 percent increase in the amount of search warrants issued by August; 400 drug dealers have been arrested; the police department has seized more than $1 million in drug money; and is on pace to confiscate more illegal firearms than ever before.

Additionally, SCPD has saved approximately 779 individuals using Narcan, the anti-opiate overdose antidote.
Narcotics search warrants alone have increased by 118.2 percent — 192 in 2016 compared to 88 in 2015.
Sini said there’s been an initiative in partnership with the Highway Patrol Unit to help reduce distracted driving, aggressive driving and speeding, educate the public about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving and reach out to municipalities in relation to improving conditions on the road.

This has also proved effective.

Image by Victoria Espinoza.

Suffolk has seen a decrease in motor vehicle crashes by 2.5 percent, motor vehicle crashes resulting in fatalities by 29.9 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 29.4 percent.

SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the reality of Suffolk today in regards to safety has long been dreamed about.

“Throughout my 33 years with SCPD, I’ve heard people wistfully referring to the olden days of yore where you could leave your doors unlocked and things were much safer … as statistics bear out, we’re living in those times right now,” the chief said. “Not that I’m encouraging anybody to leave their doors unlocked, but crime stats have truly never been better. And without the public, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these results.”

While homicides have risen, with 34 recorded in 2016 compared to 25 in 2015, Sini said that number can be largely attributed to heavy MS13 gang activity in areas like Brentwood, for which aggressive strategies have been enforced by Sini to “decimate MS13 and these other gangs.”
“We collect intelligence of known gang members in the county, assign gang officers and gang enforcers to particular [communities], and we’ve seen a dramatic decline in crime and gang violence since the initiative,” he said.

Through Sini’s creation of what he calls the Firearms Suppression Team — a mix of officers and detectives who have worked to prevent gun-related violence — SCPD has had a 50.9 percent increase in illegal firearms seizures, 507 recovered in 2016 compared to 336 in 2015, as well as a 4.4 percent decrease in shooting incident and trigger pulls.

By taking away a criminal’s tool of the trade — firearms — the commissioner said “you can make a significant dent in violent crime.”

Despite the uptick in homicides, he said preventing them is a top priority.
“If you look at all the hamlets and overall crime reduction, we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished but we’re not complacent,” Sini said. “One homicide is one too many and we’re going to keep doing what we have to do to ensure the safety of Suffolk County residents.”