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Bellone now has to replace Sini as Suffolk police commissioner

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, right, with

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, right, with  County Executive Steve Bellone at a Department of Public Works facility in Commack on  Dec. 15, 2016. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

To search nationally or simply look for an in-house or local candidate.

That’s the choice that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone now faces to find a new police commissioner now that Tim Sini has been elected district attorney.

A Bellone spokesman last week said that he had no details on how the county executive plans to proceed, but legislative leaders in both parties urged Bellone to undertake a national search, given the scandals that have rocked the police and sheriff’s departments and now the district attorney‘s office.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said the county needs to do a national search and consider “someone with an outside perspective who will provide a new look at the way things are done in the department,” although Gregory would not preclude local candidates, including term-limited Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley).

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) agreed: “We’re the 11th largest police department in the country and it is imperative, after everything we’ve been through, that we get the right person who is the most qualified and most experienced. That person may be in our own backyard, but we need to see who else is out there.”

Also recommending a national search is former county executive Patrick Halpin, who in 1989 conducted a national search that ended up with well-regarded Daniel Guido, who had earlier headed county police departments in Nassau and Westchester as well as Stamford, Connecticut.

Halpin said that Sini did a good job in the past year reviving the department “after its worst chapter in history,” but added “the question now is how to take the department to the next level. This is an opportunity to do that and it is healthy to have a police commissioner who doesn’t necessarily come from Suffolk County.”

In all, Suffolk has had a dozen police commissioners since the department was first formed in 1960 — half of whom have come from inside the department. The new commissioner will have to cope with a $511.2 million budget, 3,540 authorized positions, 2,907 of which are filled, and their costly contracts, due to expire at the end of 2018, as well as major concerns about gangs and opioid abuse.

When he first took office in 2012, Bellone formed a national search committee that vetted 75 contenders. But Bellone named Edward Webber, a 40-year veteran of the department, first as a temporary caretaker then later as his permanent choice for commissioner, after the now-jailed James Burke became chief of department.

When Burke stepped down over federal charges of covering up his in-custody beating of a suspect, and Webber resigned. Bellone installed Sini, a former assistant U.S. attorney, who worked as a county executive assistant and ran a losing race for county legislature.

Noel DiGerolamo, Suffolk PBA president, said he “doesn’t know if we need a national search to begin right now until we evaluate the existing resources,” but is confident Bellone will make the right call if a search is needed.

Potential in-house contenders include Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, Patrol Chief Robert Brown, Detective Chief Jerry Gigante, and Robert Cassagne, chief of support services, as well as recent retiree John Meehan, also a former chief. Some also suggested that Sini’s top deputy, John Barry, who came from the NYPD, but he may join Sini in the district attorney’s office.

Salary could also become an issue because top sworn personnel can make far more than the $179,000-a-year police commissioner and many are younger than 65, the age at which they could collect both their pension and salary without limits or a state waiver. Cameron, for example, is 55 and earned $257,000 last year.

Browning, meanwhile, says she is committed to running for Congress.

However, because of past problems, some lawmakers, who get to confirm any nominee, cautioned that Bellone has to do careful background checks. “We need deep vetting,” said Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport). Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) added, “Clearly we need a national search, but I’d leave out Allentown, Pennsylvania. That’s the federal penitentiary where Burke now resides.”

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