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Suffolk County Police Department

Robert Van Zeyl. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

A Suffolk County Police Department lieutenant is the first department member to lose the fight against the coronavirus.

According to a Jan. 20 press release from the SCPD, the department is mourning the loss of active duty member Robert Van Zeyl who died from COVID-19  Jan. 20.

The death is the first of an active duty sworn member of the SCPD due to the COVID-19 virus, and Van Zeyl will be honored with a line of duty funeral, arrangements of which are pending.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of an exceptional member of our law enforcement family, Lieutenant Robert Van Zeyl,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Lt. Van Zeyl’s more than three decades of exemplary service are a testament to his commitment to public service, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, he was on the frontlines every day helping residents in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Van Zeyl family during this difficult time.”

Van Zeyl, who was 60, tested positive for COVID-19 Jan. 3 and was hospitalized a week later.

“COVID-19 has impacted law enforcement agencies throughout the country and it is with deep sadness that the Suffolk County Police Department has lost its first member of service who contracted coronavirus earlier this month,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. “Lt. Van Zeyl served Suffolk County residents with distinction for nearly 36 years and his legacy will continue with the members of this department. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”

According to the press release, Van Zeyl joined the SCPD in February 1985 and served in the 5th Precinct upon graduation from the academy. Van Zeyl was promoted to Sergeant in 1994 and then Lieutenant in 2003. He served as the Commanding Officer of the Applicant Investigation Section and the Administrative Services Bureau before transferring to the 2nd Precinct in 2015 where he worked until his death.

“It is truly heartbreaking to lose a member of our department, doubly so personally given the fact that I have known Bob for my entire career,” said Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. “Thirty-six years ago, we were sworn in together and became Suffolk County Police officers; his entire adult life was dedicated to public safety. Bob’s passing exemplifies the multifaceted dangers that members of our department face every day to keep the residents of our county safe. Our department grieves his loss along with his family.”

During his more than three-decade career, Van Zeyl received more than a dozen recognitions for his contributions to the police department including two Cop of the Month honors and the Excellent Police Duty Award for amassing 12 or more self-initiated DWI arrests in a single year.

“Bob was a wonderful person, a dedicated member of our department, and a pleasure to know both personally and professionally,” said 2nd Precinct Commanding Officer Inspector William Scrima. “He was a person who genuinely enjoyed his work and was liked by people of all ranks who knew him and worked with him. He will be truly missed by this department and by the Second Precinct in particular.”

Van Zeyl is survived by his ex-wife Christine Zubrinic, his daughter Hailey and son Tyler, both 14.

“The Suffolk County Police Department has not only lost a great police officer, but we’ve lost a great boss, and more importantly, a great friend,” said Sergeant Jack Smithers, who worked with Van Zeyl in the 2nd Precinct. “He will be sorely missed by all.”

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File photo

Update: On Jan. 21, Suffolk County police identified the woman found dead in a Huntington apartment as Mareasa Westcott, 47. Her cause of death has been determined to be criminal in nature. The investigation is continuing.

Original release:

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the death of a woman who was found deceased in her apartment yesterday in Huntington.

The landlord for the property located at 22 Elm St. called 911 Jan. 18 at 2:08 p.m. to request that police check on the welfare of a tenant who had not been seen in several days. When officers arrived at the scene they found an adult female dead in her apartment

The woman’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. An autopsy will be performed to determine cause of death.

Detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392.

From FBI.gov

By Chris Cumella

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released a statement that it is seeking assistance in locating individuals who had participated in the riots, which took place at the United States Capitol building Wednesday, Jan. 6. 

In addition to citizens, the FBI is also looking for off-duty police officers and firefighters who may have been involved.

A brief memo on the FBI official website at www.fbi.gov noted that an investigation has been launched to track down and arrest those individuals.

“We have deployed our full investigative resources and are working closely with our federal, state and local partners to aggressively pursue those involved in criminal activity during the events of January 6,” the memo said.

Next to the bureau’s statement can be seen a list of news events about the Capitol riots, with arrests and charges. 

The bureau’s call to action was for citizens to utilize its online forum, specifically if they had documents, photos or video to attach. 

There is also an option enabling participants to utilize the FBI’s phone number at 800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) to report any relevant tips.

FBI Director Christopher Wray made a statement detailing that the violence and destruction of property at the U.S. Capitol building was appalling and disrespectful to the democratic process. 

“As we have said consistently, we do not tolerate violent agitators and extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to incite violence and wreak havoc,” he said.

“Our agents and analysts have been hard at work … gathering evidence, sharing intelligence, and working with federal prosecutors to bring charges,”  Wray added. “We are determined to find those responsible and ensure justice is served.”

These investigations follow directly after the attacks on the Capitol building, which many outlets and organizations have blamed on President Trump’s (R) morning rally as a direct cause of the violence. 

During his speech, the president urged his supporters to “fight much harder” against “bad people” and “show strength” at the Capitol, where lawmakers were about to certify the Electoral College votes giving victory to President-elect Joe Biden (D), who is to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Regarding off-duty police officers, a media liaison for the Suffolk police department stated in an email that they currently have no specific knowledge that any of its off-duty members attended the event, and will comply with any investigations necessary moving forward. 

“The Suffolk County Police Department will cooperate, if requested, with the federal investigation into the events at the U.S. Capitol, including any alleged involvement of our members,” the statement said.

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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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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.

Police commissioner Geraldine Hart. File photo

By Chris Cumella

Concerned members of the community discussed police reform and transparency at last month’s virtual Suffolk County Police Reform & Reinvention Task Force public listening session for the 2nd Precinct.

The conference was held as an ongoing series for public outreach and communication with the county community, as a direct way to connect with citizens based on police affairs – both current and future.

“We are looking at recruiting and supporting excellent personnel,” said Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter, as she listed various factors that the task force stands for,  including “recruiting a diverse workforce, training and continuing education, and supporting officer wellness and wellbeing.”

The conference included a section for residents to address questions and concerns to the board regarding the police force interacting with the community. Many of the statements discussed unnecessary police force against racial minority groups and those persons with intellectual disabilities.

During the conference, one individual identified as Speaker 8 said, “I’m appalled that this country has continued to discriminate. We are seeing what is going on with the police — we are not happy. The treatment is not equal, and it is not how this should work.”

The citizen input session proceded for over two hours, with 19 county residents addressing the various racial discrimination methods or inequity that they have personally witnessed from the SCPD in the last year.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart called the forum “powerful.” It reinforced the idea that policing is about identifying problems in the county and working to fix them in cooperation with those in Suffolk.

Speaking about how the police force approaches those with intellectual disabilities, Hart acknowledged that there had been “a failure in the system” for how those citizens are treated.

The task force has its own website at suffolkcountyny.gov/police-reform, including information on all members of the task force as well as statistics and resources of the police department. Baird-Streeter said that doing so was a means of ensuring that the public would have access to the information. The public listening sessions are now completed.

For his closing statement, Jon Kaiman, deputy county executive and task force co-facilitator, said that the task force and Suffolk county police were becoming more engaged because of residents’ input.

“The leadership of this department is committed to listening to all of you, as well as your stories and your suggestions that you’ve had — positive or negative,” Kaiman said.

 

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Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the man who allegedly stole merchandise from a East Setauket store earlier this year.

A man allegedly stole items from Walmart, located at 3990 Nesconset Highway, Sept. 19 at approximately 12:20 p.m. The man fled in a newer white Subaru, possibly an Impreza Hatchback.

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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Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
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 and locate three people who allegedly stole liquor from a Hauppauge store last month.

Two women and a man allegedly stole approximately $700 worth of alcohol from Aqua Vitae Wines and Liquors, located at 597 Route 347, Oct. 27 at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about this incident 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.

File photo

When Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the 30-member police reform task force last Wednesday, Sept. 9, there was not much in the way of fanfare for what should be a big moment for the general police reform movement.

Like the sound of a flat trumpet announcing the arrival of the king, it did not create any kinds of sensation other than pursed lips and a general groan from the community at large.

The news has left people on both entrenched sides of the police debate uncomfortable. One side probably thinks it is a dangerous waste of time, the other believes it to be an attempt at lip service, one piloted by the same people advocates accused of sustaining bad practices within departments.

The muted and sometimes hostile response to the new task force is likely due to how long it took the county to actually release its own plans. It has been over three months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) released his first executive order mandating that the government actually looks into this. Police reform advocates have hounded his heels since then but the county exec stood mum. Perhaps he, like others, was confused by what the county should have been doing to prepare for what is likely seen as another unfunded mandate from New York State.

But this is bigger than that, or at least, it should be. Bellone and other police officials should have been upfront about what they were going to do and how they would do it. At least then they wouldn’t have been in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation as they are now. Especially because without a plan, Cuomo has promised municipalities’ police departments could lose state funding.

Suffolk County police officials throughout the entirety of the police debate have touted recent advancements in anti-bias training and department reform that was happening even before Minneapolis man George Floyd was killed at the hands of police.

And to say there haven’t been significant efforts would be a disservice to the several notable people within the police department who have strived to increase inclusivity and enact change for the better. Most times, however, it’s better to let the people themselves tell you if that change has been enough, rather than just sitting in the echo chamber that is bureaucracy.

The 30-person task force is effectively evenly split between Suffolk County officials/police reps and other religious, racial and community groups. This disparate set of characters plans to hold eight meetings, one for each precinct plus the East End, then using another large survey the county has announced alongside the task force, craft some sort of policy plan.

The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association will of course advocate for no changes to police budgets or personnel. Their leadership has been staunch supporters of Blue Lives Matter rallies and have routinely decried any and all Black Lives Matter protests, even though in the county the vast majority have been peaceful and civil. That’s not to say police don’t have the right to speak up for themselves. We know just how much work goes into serving a community as an officer — from the holidays not spent with families to the danger they put themselves in every day. But we need to listen to communities, especially the large communities of color, for whether they feel police actually treat them the way many of us on the North Shore feel we are positively reflected.

We at TBR News Media think there should be a minority report, or potentially multiple minority reports, to go along with whatever result gets crafted before the governor’s April 2021 deadline. That way we can see what was left on the cutting room floor and, more importantly, how either police reps or reform advocates feel things should be done if they had their way.

It’s time to stop thinking of this task force as an afterthought and move toward some consensus that leads to real change.

Photo from Councilman LaValle's office
Photo from Councilman LaValle’s office

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (third from left) joined representatives of the Selden Civic Association the Suffolk County Police Department for the grand opening celebration of Texas Roadhouse in Selden on Sept. 1. The councilman presented the staff with a Certificate of Congratulations and wished them many years of success.

Construction began last fall at the former location of Ruby Tuesdays at 289 Middle Country Road at the corner of Route 83 in the Selden Plaza shopping center. The steakhouse is the third Texas Roadhouse on Long Island, joining the East Meadow and Deer Park eateries famous for its hand-cut steaks, ribs, freshly baked bread, made-from-scratch sides, bottomless peanuts and 15 different varieties of margaritas.

The 7,163 square-foot space is open Mondays to Thursdays from 3 to 10 p.m., Fridays from 3 to 11 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, call 631-496-3073 or visit www.texasroadhouse.com.