The Suffolk County Police Department — in the wake of the federal indictment of its chief of department — unveiled reforms this week to its internal affairs bureau that officials say are designed to add transparency and accountability to the investigation of corrupt officers.
The changes, revealed to Newsday in a Hauppauge session with acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini, County Executive Steve Bellone and county lawmakers, include reverting the oversight of internal affairs back to the post of deputy police commissioner.
That position would be filled by former federal criminal investigator John Barry, if Sini is confirmed by lawmakers next week to the permanent position. Barry was instrumental in the successful prosecution last year of former state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.
The department has also added more staff to internal affairs, including two Spanish speakers, and instituted weekly meetings with top brass to ensure cases are closed in 180 days, Sini said.
It will also track complaints about officers in the same way the department now tracks crime patterns and will convert to digital records, the acting commissioner said.
Sini said the reforms are a part of his and newly appointed Chief of Department Stuart Cameron’s top-to-bottom assessment of the department working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Bellone said, “This is just another area that we think it’s important to implement best practices and implement ways to make sure we are improving the department.”
The reforms come weeks after the federal indictment of former Chief of Department James Burke for allegedly beating a handcuffed prisoner and covering it up. Burke, when he took over the top uniformed position in January 2012, had tasked the department’s chief of support services, to oversee internal affairs. Before that, IAB reported to the deputy commissioner.
Sini said he has also installed a one-star chief to be the commanding officer of the bureau after several years in which it had been commanded by an inspector, a lower rank.
The Nassau police department has a one-star chief as commanding officer for the unit and in both Nassau and New York City they report directly to the commissioner, officials said.
Acting Nassau Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said senior staff such as the chief of department are also included in major internal affairs cases.
To have a one-star chief running the unit sends a message, said Sini, that the bureau is a priority. It also adds another level of supervision, he said.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who teaches criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, called putting in a chief as a commanding officer of the unit “a good move.”
“The only difference [in the NYPD] is that the chief of internal affairs is a three-star chief and he or she doesn’t answer to anybody but the PC [police commissioner] so there is no other oversight other than the PC,” he said. “That’s how you avoid people coming in and asking for favors and stuff like that. When you are dealing with such a small department like this, that’s the problem: Everybody knows each other.
But he added that the reforms are a “paper tiger” without stricter rules that would penalize both officers who are found guilty of misconduct and those who witness misconduct and say nothing.
“We have a major problem here so this falls squarely on Bellone. And Sini is clearly going to have to clean this mess,” Giacalone said.
“You have to have strict rules in respect to officers not talking about corruption and not reporting it, they get fired. That’s how we do it in the city,” he said. “There has to be a deterrent factor. For instance, cops who didn’t report Chief Burke should have been fired and not allowed to retire.”
More staff is being added as well; each of the three teams will go from five to six members led by three captains. They had two captains before.
The addition of the two Spanish-speaking officers — including a captain and an investigator — is critical, Sini said, because one of the main complaints he has received from the Latino community is that there are no Spanish speakers to take reports.
Nassau has 10 detective sergeant investigators divided into two teams. They answer to the deputy commanding officer who is an inspector, and the commanding officer is a deputy chief who reports to the commissioner.
Sini said there will be weekly meetings to make sure cases are being properly managed and the entire bureau will be digitized. Computerizing cases will safeguard them because anyone who accesses them will leave digital fingerprints.
Nassau has had a digitized internal affairs unit for nearly two decades, said Krumpter, using IAPro, a software that utilizes data mining and has an early warning system built in to flag patterns. It also keeps a digital record of who has accessed files and altered them, he said.
Sini said digitizing internal affairs will enable complaints to be tracked like crime patterns, saying, “Just like we fight crime outside the department, it’s important to identify patterns and trends within the department.”
He said he is also going to add the incentive of promotion by adding to the a career path in the bureau the positions of detective sergeant or a detective lieutenant — hopefully drawing more talent to the unit.
“If people believe that IAB is a steppingstone to a promotion, they’ll go,” Sini said.
County legislature Public Safety Committee chair Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley) and her co-chair Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) also attended the session. Calarco announced he filed a resolution on Tuesday requiring the department to provide a statistical overview of internal affairs activities on a quarterly basis.
That overview would include disclosing the number of internal affairs investigations launched, misconduct complaints and the origin of complaints and their nature.