As Suffolk County lawmakers prepare for prospective police commissioner Timothy Sini’s confirmation hearings Thursday, County Executive Steve Bellone is defending his decision not to conduct a nationwide search for a new leader following federal charges against the county’s former top uniformed cop.
“You don’t do a search when you have the right person. You do a search when you don’t have the right person,” Bellone said. Bellone said Sini is, “dynamic, incredibly talented, brings a fresh perspective to the department and has extensive law enforcement experience.”
Sini on Thursday will face the Legislature’s public safety committee. If he gets a majority of votes out of committee, the full Legislature will vote on his confirmation as police Commissioner on Feb. 9.
The police department was shaken when former Chief of Department James Burke was arrested last year on federal charges that he beat a prisoner who had stolen a duffel bag from his department SUV and orchestrated a cover-up.
Burke, who has pleaded not guilty, remains held in federal custody after a judge denied him bail, citing “the corruption of an entire department by this defendant.”
Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), chairwoman of the legislature’s public safety committee, predicted Sini’s nomination would pass her committee.
But she said she had “a lot of reservations,” and that Sini would face questions at the committee hearing.
“With everything going on in the department, he’s young,” Browning said. “He doesn’t have experience running a police department or even the experience in an administrative position. He’s never been an administrator of a large department of anything.”
She added: “There will be questions about what he didn’t do as deputy county executive for public safety when the lid blew open on the Chief Burke situation.”
Sini, who was Bellone’s assistant deputy county executive for public safety before he was named deputy police commissioner, said he has become familiar with the department and the issues it faces.
He said that in the two months since becoming deputy police commissioner, he has begun anti-crime initiatives, revamped community affairs and turned around the relationship with federal law enforcement. “We had an adversarial relationship, and now there is collaboration across the board,” he said.
Sini said he has had experience leading teams of investigators and prosecutors.
And he said the department has had fewer retirements than expected, a sign that officers are excited about him and his new leadership team.
Sini said, “Right now the department needs someone with a fresh perspective, who has ideas outside the box.”
When Bellone first took office in 2012 he formed a search committee for a new police commissioner, chaired by Long Island Association CEO/president Kevin Law. The job ad said the candidate “should have a minimum of eight years of administrative/management experience in a large law enforcement agency.”
Asked about Sini’s lack of management experience, Bellone said: “What we were looking for four years ago would be different than what we’re looking for today. We’re looking for somebody that has real experience on the ground here, but also brings a fresh outsider perspective, somebody that has extensive law enforcement experience, but particularly federal law enforcement experience.”
Sini, 35, served as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District from March 2010 to August 2014, when he joined Bellone’s office as assistant deputy county executive for public safety.
Sini also served as an unpaid aide to Babylon Supervisor Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, and ran unsuccessfully for county legislature last year.
Sini joined the police department in November as a deputy commissioner when Bellone tapped him for the post after former Police Commissioner Edward Webber announced his retirement.
Sini graduated with a BA in political science from American University in 2002, and from Brooklyn Law School in 2005. He worked at two New York City law firms and clerked for two federal judges before becoming an assistant U.S. Attorney.
Bellone says he has not requested Sini’s personnel file from his stint in the U.S. attorney’s office.
Newsday has reported a 1995 internal affair’s report showed Burke twice lost his police-issued service weapon at the same time that he carried on a sexual relationship with a woman who had a criminal record. Bellone has said he was not aware of the internal affairs report when he appointed Burke as chief of department.