A proposed Suffolk law would set new requirements for current and future police brass to hold higher education degrees, get FBI security clearance and be free of substantiated complaints against them.
The bill was introduced by Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk County police detective, as a way, he said, to professionalize the department.
"I'm tired of seeing our police department dragged through the mud. I think if we had more professional leadership, that wouldn't happen," Trotta said Wednesday.
The bill, introduced Tuesday night at the legislature, drew sharp opposition from officials with Suffolk County police unions, who said the bill would unlawfully open up a collective bargaining agreement passed this year by the legislature.
Tim Morris, president of the Superior Officers Association, called the bill "unnecessary." He said of Trotta: "On what authority is he qualified to determine the qualifications for a police manager? He never was one. This is purely personal animus."
Morris said Trotta proposed the bill as a way of going after Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke. Burke does not have a bachelor's degree. Trotta responded: "This is not about Chief Burke. If it happens that he does not meet these criteria or any other boss doesn't meet these criteria, than they shouldn't be there."
Burke and Police Commissioner Edward Webber did not respond to a request for comment.
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, called the bill "absurd." He said "substantiated complaints" can be overturned later in the process and that a high percentage of police employees already have some higher education credits.
Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said, "if this resolution is passed, we'll review it at that time."
The bill would require deputy inspectors and higher to have a bachelor's degree in certain fields. Deputy chiefs or higher would need advanced degrees and at least 20 years of experience in a law enforcement agency. Current officers would have seven years to get a bachelor's degree and three for an advanced degree.
Trotta said "top secret" FBI clearance is necessitated when working with facilities such as Brookhaven National Lab and Plum Island. DiGerolamo said the department doesn't need it.
The bill says appointed officers would have to have "excellent investigative skills, a reputation for integrity" and not have a substantiated complaint against them for excessive force, sexual harassment or discrimination.Trotta pulled that language from an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the county, which Bellone and Webber signed in January to settle complaints of racial discrimination. The requirements in the agreement with the federal government is for internal affairs investigators, which Trotta said should also apply to higher ups.
"Clearly if those sergeants and lieutenants are required to have it, certainly the hierarchy of the department should meet the standard," he said.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he did not review the bill yet and he declined to comment. Minority Leader John Kennedy, Jr. (R-Nesconset) could not be reached for comment.
Legis. William Lindsay III though, said he believed the bill was micromanaging the department that recent crime statistics proved was working well.
"There's no need to look at the problem where it doesn't exist," Lindsay said. "To me, statistics don't lie, and statistics have been nothing but positive."