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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Tim Sini, Suffolk police commissioner, wrong to promote commander

Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini

Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini Credit: James Escher / James Escher

Timothy Sini, Suffolk’s new police commissioner, made a bad move in promoting a police commander who is under investigation by the department’s internal affairs division.

Suffolk’s top civil service official, Alan Schneider, told Newsday’s Rick Brand that he couldn’t recall another instance in his decades on the job where an officer under internal affairs review won a promotion.

On Monday, Sini defended his decision to promote Paul Memay, a sergeant who headed the applicant investigation unit, to a $167,666-a-year job as lieutenant.

Sini’s justification?

He said he did not want Memay, because of his good work with the department, to miss out on a promotion. Besides, Sini added, should the internal affairs investigation go against Memay — who was one of two headquarters trustees of the Superior Officers Association, the union for supervisors — the department still has the option to demote him.

“I stand by my decision with Paul Memay,” Sini said in an interview.

OK. Sini can stand by the decision.

But his move nonetheless remains the wrong one — for this department and especially for this time, as Sini works to rebuild public trust after corruption-related allegations landed Suffolk’s former chief of department in federal custody, pending trial.

It looks bad that Sini, as acting police commissioner, approved the promotion before being sworn in as commissioner; it looks worse that Sini defended the move by telling Brand, “I understand the public trust issues, but I am not going to treat an officer unfairly to curry favor with the public.”

Say what, now?

A key part of this commissioner’s job is restoring the public’s faith and confidence in a department roiled by federal allegations that James Burke, the former chief of department, beat up a prisoner and used the department’s chain of command to cover it up. Burke has pleaded not guilty.

By putting the career of a single supervisor first, Sini, a former federal prosecutor nominated by County Executive Steve Bellone, failed a crucial test.

With the promotion, how can the public trust that the department is handing internal affairs investigations properly? For that matter, how can members of the police department?

Is every officer under open review a candidate for promotion? And if not — since Sini is concerned about fairness, rather than public perception — who could blame an officer for questioning why not ?

In promoting Memay, is Sini steering internal affairs toward some predetermined result?

Compounding matters is the reaction the department and Bellone’s administration had to Brand’s inquiries. Initially, the department — before Sini came on — did not acknowledge an internal affairs investigation of Memay.

And a Bellone spokesman told Brand that the department, under civil service rules, had no choice other than to promote the supervisor — an assertion that turned out to be wrong because the lieutenant position could have been left open until the investigation was complete.

And as for fairness?

At issue in the investigation — and related court cases — is whether Memay improperly allowed recruit Christopher McAdam, the stepson of Richard Roth, a subordinate in Memay’s office, to have a third chance at passing an agility test for police hiring.

The department terminated McAdam from Suffolk’s police academy after he was allowed to take the third test. He later got a restraining order that allowed him to return temporarily to the academy until a court decision is released, arguing that he would be irreparably harmed because Suffolk bars anyone over 35 from taking a future police test.

The outcome of the court challenge, civil service officials say, could impact more than McAdams — because 75 other applicants were removed from hiring consideration.

After failing a single retest.

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