Sheriffs dispute cops' return to Suffolk highways

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, announces that Suffolk

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, announces that Suffolk County police will resume patrols on the LIE and Sunrise Highway in September, during a press conference at his office in Hauppauge while PBA president Noel DiGerolamo, looks on. (Aug. 2, 2012) (Credit: James Carbone)

Suffolk deputy sheriffs are disputing a key part of County Executive Steve Bellone's new pact with police that would return patrols of the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway to county police.

The union representing the deputy sheriffs says it has an agreement for rights to patrol the highways through 2017.

"We have an agreement in place," said Anthony Prudenti, head of the Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association. "We think that, legally, the agreement is binding. The county thinks differently."

Michael Sharkey, chief of staff of the sheriff's department, described the patrol deal between the sheriffs union and the county as a "job-protection agreement" for all deputy sheriff job functions, including patrol of the highways.

Sharkey said the agreement guaranteed deputy sheriffs would retain "all job functions" in exchange for "deferred monies" of approximately $4 million.

But Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Friday that the county doesn't have to honor the agreement because it was hammered out between the prior county executive, Steve Levy, and the sheriffs union.

Schneider said the county anticipated no roadblocks in returning county police officers to the LIE and Sunrise, and said the dispute would not scuttle the overall labor agreement.

"This was an issue that obviously the county executive had the law department look into," Schneider said.

Officials of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association could not be reached for comment Friday.

Jurisdiction over patrol of the expressway and Sunrise was a key component of a new 10-year agreement with county police officers that Bellone announced Thursday.

In return for regaining the right to patrol the expressway and Sunrise Highway in Suffolk, the police union agreed that new hires would contribute as much as 15 percent of their health insurance premiums and receive no pay raises until mid-2013.

Suffolk's nine other unions said they've also agreed to have new members pay toward their health care.

Bellone said the concessions in the tentative police labor contract would save the county $17 million a year on health care costs, and $30 million in pay raises.

Deputy sheriffs have patrolled the LIE and Sunrise Highway since September 2008, when Levy disbanded the police highway patrol unit in a cost-cutting measure. Deputy sheriffs earn less than county police officers.

The police officers union and the Superior Officers Association filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board to win back patrol of the highways. They argued that Levy's decision improperly reduced officer overtime and seniority.

In August 2010, an administrative law judge ruled that Levy was within his rights to assign deputy sheriffs to patrol the highways.

But Schneider said Friday that the agreement isn't binding on Bellone because the previous county executive signed it.

Schneider added that the deferred compensation was never approved by the Suffolk County Legislature.

"Our interpretation is the prior county executive can't bind our hands," Schneider said. "As for the matter of deferred compensation, that's a live issue and is going to have to be worked out at the bargaining table."

Levy said he signed a similar agreement with the police union before he left office that offered police a pledge not to take away any of their duties in exchange for officers deferring part of their paychecks.

"If Bellone is going to try to throw out the agreement with the sheriff, then he has to throw out the lag payroll agreement" with the police union, Levy said.

With Tania Lopez

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