The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday night unanimously confirmed Geraldine Hart, the former head of the FBI’s Long Island office, as the first female commissioner in the 58-year history of the Suffolk County Police Department.
Before the 18-0 vote at 9:50 p.m., Hart addressed lawmakers for about an hour, emphasizing that she is “someone who values integrity, someone who values law enforcement” and promised to be independent and keep lines of communication open with the community.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were positive about Hart’s confirmation. “It’s wonderful to see a woman like you in a position to take leadership,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).
Legis. Tom Cilmi, leader of the GOP caucus, praised Hart for meeting personally with lawmakers before the confirmation vote and said she had a “genuineness and sincerity.” If she can keep that approach, he added, she’ll remain “in a pretty good spot.”
However, Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) questioned her supervisory experience to lead a department with 2,500 officers. Hart said she has had increasing supervisory experience since 2012 and last headed the Long Island FBI office and its 125 personnel.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he had “no problems” with her capabilities, but warned that Suffolk police had gone through a “horrible, horrible thing” with the scandal involving now-jailed former Chief of Department James Burke for beating a burglary suspect and covering it up. “Are you really ready for the politics?” he said.
She responded that she had a 20-year record with the FBI as “someone with integrity and someone who values integrity and knows what it’s worth.”
Her appearance before lawmakers was delayed for more than 90 minutes while the legislators met in executive session with county attorneys over the controversial $10 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by Martin Tankleff, whose murder conviction of his parents was overturned in 2007.
Hart not only got support from lawmakers, but from nearly a dozen community leaders who spoke during the public portion of the meeting before her appearance. Among those who praised her credentials were Brentwood schools Superintendent Howard Koenig, Crime Victims Center head Laura Ahearn, and Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug tribe.
“She respects us, looks forward to working with us and will protect us,” said Talat Hamdani, who described herself as “a proud Muslim American.”
While Hart testified, her mother, Patricia, her father, John, and her son Conrad Ertel, 14, looked on, along with her brother, sister, aunt and uncle.
Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman, who headed the search committee, said that Hart was chosen over 100 other contenders, including candidates from St. Louis, Chicago, New Jersey and New York City.