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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Top cop retirements, federal probe spur Suffolk PD changes

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks with reporters

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone talks with reporters about the 2016 budget that he released on Friday, Sept 18, 2015 in Hauppauge. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is rushing to reboot Suffolk’s police department.

And no wonder.

Recently, federal investigators have been questioning detectives and others in the wake of allegations from a suspect that he was beaten in 2012 by former chief of department James Burke after stealing a duffel bag from Burke’s department-issued SUV, sources have told Newsday.

Burke stepped down in October.

Three detectives involved in Suffolk’s investigation into the theft have retired from the department.

And last week, Commissioner Edward Webber and Chief of Detectives William Madigan, who was close to Burke, announced that they would be leaving the department too.

Meanwhile, according to Newsday’s Robert Kessler, federal authorities have been questioning Suffolk police, detectives and probation officers who were present at the precinct where suspect Christopher Loeb was taken — or present at Loeb’s house when Burke showed up to retrieve his bag.

An earlier probe into the case went nowhere. But this time around, according to Kessler’s report, prosecutors are believed to have new evidence — which might include some combination of wiretapped information and accounts from law enforcement officers who changed their initial statements.

All of which could mean that prosecutors are looking beyond Loeb’s initial allegations to determine whether there may have been a cover-up.

Bellone is responding to the cloud cast over the department by the investigation, and to the exodus of some personnel, by moving to reshape the department — for a second time during his tenure.

Bellone moved quickly to replace Burke.

He’s nominated another ally, Tim Sini, a former federal prosecutor and Bellone’s deputy county executive for public safety, to succeed Webber.

And Wednesday, a Bellone spokesman said there would be more to come as the department reviews its own procedures and operations.

Still, Bellone’s push to end the Burke era doesn’t negate the fact that Bellone publicly defended Burke — who has been charged with no wrongdoing — from 2012 up until the county executive learned of the new federal probe.

The probe is ongoing.

But Suffolk lawmakers need not wait for federal prosecutors to gauge the impact of the investigation — and some of the troubling questions it raises — about the department and its operations.

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