Suffolk's top law enforcement officials talk crime-fighting with LIA
Suffolk County’s top law enforcement officials told Long Island business leaders Tuesday that their priorities include targeting gang members and others responsible for gun violence, combating the opioid epidemic, solving the Gilgo Beach killings and advocating for crime victims.
District Attorney Ray Tierney, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. and Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison vowed to work together to make Long Island safer and more prosperous during a forum in Melville sponsored by the Long Island Association, the region’s nearly 100-year-old chamber of commerce.
“Public safety is an economic development issue,” LIA president and CEO Matt Cohen said. “You can’t have a thriving economy unless employers, employees and customers feel safe."
County Executive Steve Bellone agreed: “Public safety is a prerequisite to prosperity.”
Tierney said his office will target the small number of individuals responsible for gun violence and gang violence in the county. Tierney also promised to prosecute drug dealers, especially those who sell fentanyl — a cheap and deadly synthetic opioid responsible for most of the recent fatal overdoses on Long Island.
Tierney also vowed to prosecute members of retail theft rings who enter stores, empty shelves and flee before police can be summoned. He said the COVID-19 pandemic and bail reform has convinced some criminals that they can act without impunity.
“This small element thinks they can do this with no consequences,” Tierney said.
Solving the Gilgo Beach killings and other cold cases is also a priority, Tierney said. Harrison and Tierney announced last week that investigators identified who they believe had murdered Eve Wilkowitz, a 20-year-old secretary, 42 years ago in Bay Shore.
Toulon told the business leaders that his priority is keeping young people out of the criminal justice system and helping those who do run afoul of the law stay out of trouble after their release.
“I’d rather see kids on ballfields than in my facilities,” said Toulon, whose office manages Suffolk jails in Riverhead and Yaphank.
Toulon said his staff created a pod for inmates 55 and older so they could get services for seniors and a pod for young men that provides anger management training, parenting classes and job training. The Suffolk Sheriff’s Office, he said, created the first human trafficking unit in a jail to identify and assist women forced into sex work.
Toulon said it is crucial for public safety to provide inmates with the support and services they need after they are discharged, to ensure they do not return. “If we can help them on the right path, there will be no more victims in our county,” he said.
Harrison told the business leaders that he created the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation Task Force to coordinate efforts between Suffolk police, prosecutors, the sheriff’s office and the FBI to solve the slayings.
“I was not happy. It was not going in the right direction,” Harrison said of the Gilgo probe.
The commissioner said he will work with Tierney on quality-of-life issues, including a crackdown on dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles that pose safety risks on public streets.
Harrison also promised to identify drug dealers responsible for the opioid crisis that has killed thousands on Long island since the late 1990s and break up their operations. He said he is implementing the police reform plan approved by the county legislature last year, which includes equipping patrol officers with body cameras and providing civilian oversight of the police disciplinary process.
Harrison said it was also important to recruit and retain minorities, so the department reflects the diversity of the community it serves. He said a more diverse department will promote “trust and respect for the organization.”