A seven-month search for a new police commissioner has led Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to the man doing the job all along.
Bellone will announce this morning that he has chosen Acting Commissioner Edward Webber, a 40-year department veteran, to fill the position permanently.
Bellone also will announce that he has tapped Risco Mention-Lewis, a Nassau district attorney's chief with deep anti-gang experience, to serve as Webber's deputy.
The Suffolk County Legislature is expected to vote on the nominations next month.
"I've had more than six months now to look at this team that we have in place, and they've led a remarkable turnaround in the department," Bellone said of Webber and Chief of Department James Burke. "The acting commissioner has a spotless record, is universally respected and is an expert on the budget. He's just the right person at the right time."
Bellone named a five-member search panel in December, and at one point suggested he preferred an outsider. Bellone said at the time that Webber "had no interest" in the permanent position.
But Webber, the former chief of support services and a licensed certified public accountant, said he became more intrigued by the job as he continued to serve, and formally threw his hat in the ring this spring.
"I think I can offer the department a lot," said Webber, 65, of Bay Shore, who also has served as chief of patrol and the arson squad commander. "These are very difficult fiscal times, and I have a skill set that I think the department can use well."
Webber will earn $164,221 annually as Suffolk's 12th police commissioner, overseeing a department with a $400 million budget and about 2,400 officers and 550 civilian employees.
As support services chief, Webber regularly handled the department budget, and Bellone agreed that his experience was a plus at a time when Suffolk faces a projected 2013 deficit of $300 million.
"There's no question his budget expertise . . . plays a big part here," said Bellone, who has asked all county departments for zero-growth budgets next year. "That he's reduced overtime $2 million over the last six months is an extraordinary accomplishment."
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader, said Webber "epitomizes the height of professionalism and will bring a new culture of open communication to the department that heretofore has not existed."
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) called Webber "a very solid manager and someone who is open-minded and the right guy for the job."
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said that "given the climate and the economy, it's a good move to keep the man who was chief of support services because he has a good handle on the budget and the way the department operates."
Bellone said the lengthy commissioner search process, despite yielding a local nominee, wasn't a waste. The panel, led by Long Island Association president Kevin Law, vetted 75 applicants, interviewing 11. Webber was one of the finalists they recommended.
"He sort of came to the process late, but the committee, obviously, found him to be the most knowledgeable about the department," Law said. "He knows it inside-out, and we thought the times certainly call for someone like that."
Mention-Lewis is an assistant Nassau district attorney and chief of youth development and redirection, helping juvenile offenders navigate the justice system and avoid returning to a criminal lifestyle. She will earn $131,701 a year.
Webber said Mention-Lewis' work on reducing recidivism fits the department's priorities.
"So few people are committing so many of the crimes here, and working with these people is something she has a lot of experience with," Webber said. "With her, we can better attack the problem."
With Rick Brand