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Bellone to interview police commish finalists

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, above, backed Anthony

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, above, backed Anthony Manetta, a political strategist and fundraiser, for IDA chief executive. (Dec. 20, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will start interviewing police commissioner finalists this week, and now hopes to make his long-awaited appointment by early July.

In an interview late last week, Bellone acknowledged the process -- which began with formation of a five-member search panel last December -- has stretched well past his initial estimate of four months.

But he said acting Commissioner Edward Webber, a 40-year veteran, and new Chief of Department James Burke, who previously led district attorney investigators, had stabilized leadership ranks Bellone once called "dysfunctional."

"There wasn't overwhelming urgency to complete this quickly because of the changes we've already made," Bellone said, noting that Suffolk's budget crisis has often commanded his attention at the expense of other matters. "It's basically been crisis management on a daily basis in the county."

Bellone would not say how many finalists he will interview. Kevin Law, the Long Island Association president who led the search panel, has said he anticipated recommending at least three people.

The panel vetted 75 applicants and conducted its own interviews with about a dozen. Bellone said he'd be speaking with finalists "locally, regionally and nationally," but declined to identify them, or say how many are from Suffolk.

Webber applied to be permanent commissioner, Bellone confirmed, but didn't say if he was a finalist. Neither Burke nor District Attorney Thomas Spota are candidates, he said.

The police department has about 3,500 employees, including civilians, and a $400 million budget. The commissioner is paid $164,221 annually.

Earlier this spring, Bellone offered police unions a retirement incentive designed to avoid layoffs of 38 rookie officers this month. Nearly 70 senior officers, detectives and supervisors took the deal, leaving some law enforcement leaders concerned about low staffing.

In light of Suffolk's $530 million deficit projection through 2013, Bellone said the new commissioner will have to get used to tight budgets.

"This may be the new norm for the county for some time, and it's certainly going to be a top priority for every agency, including the police department," Bellone said. "Public safety remains a priority, but we have to deal with financial realities."

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