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Edward Webber to retire as Suffolk police commissioner

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, he has chosen his top criminal justice aide, Timothy Sini, to replace outgoing Police Commissioner Edward Webber. Sini, 35, the current Suffolk deputy commissioner of public safety, sat down with Newsday to talk about his experience as a federal prosecutor and some of the changes he intends to make in the department. (Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger)

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber announced his retirement Monday as the department faces a federal investigation of its former top uniformed officer.

Webber, a 43-year department veteran, will stay on until Jan. 25 to help with the transition, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.

Webber said he couldn't commit to serving another four years and wanted to spend time with his wife, three children and six grandchildren.

"As County Executive Bellone transitions to his second term, he needs department heads who are prepared to make a commitment to serve the next four years," Webber, 69, said in an interview.

Webber said Suffolk is on pace to end the year with the lowest number of homicides and burglaries in 25 years. He said he also is proud of the improved relationship between the police department and Hispanic and black communities.

Bellone said Webber served "with honor and distinction." The administration would not comment on who would replace Webber but said an announcement about the process would come soon.

Webber's announcement came a month after James Burke resigned as chief of department amid a reopened federal investigation into police conduct following the theft of Burke's duffel bag, Newsday has reported.

Webber said his retirement was unrelated to Burke's departure. "If it was, I wouldn't be staying on for two months," he said.

"We're a paramilitary organization. We've lost chiefs before. We've lost commissioners before. It's the natural progression of things -- when someone leaves, someone else takes his place," Webber said.

Critics of the department's leadership said the next commissioner needs to make significant changes, including working more closely with federal law enforcement agencies.

"We need a commissioner with some leadership skills to take control of the department and improve the relationship with federal law enforcement," said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Trotta is among several county lawmakers who have criticized reduced county involvement in federal anti-drug and gang task forces.

Said Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), chairwoman of the public safety committee: "I hope whoever they produce as police commissioner, there will be improved cooperation with the federal government."

Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said Webber has "had a distinguished career . . . Any discussions of the ongoing investigation and retirement is a distraction to Ed Webber, an asset to the department. To be distracted by anything else is a disservice to him."

Tim Morris, president of the Suffolk Superior Officers Association, said that, "for the last four years he [Webber] and Chief Burke guided the department through some difficult times. They both did a great job."

Newsday has reported that a federal grand jury is probing whether any law enforcement official was observed striking Christopher Loeb and whether there was a subsequent cover-up of a possible assault. Loeb, an admitted heroin addict, broke into Burke's car parked at his Smithtown home and stole a duffel bag. Loeb has said he was beaten by Suffolk police officers and then by Burke himself after the bag was recovered.

Loeb has filed a federal lawsuit against the county, Burke and other police officers for violating his civil rights.

Bellone named Webber interim commissioner in 2012, at the start of his first term as county executive, and gave him the permanent position later that year. Bellone said he and Burke had stabilized what he once called a "dysfunctional" department.

While the chief of department reports to the commissioner, Burke often was the face of Suffolk police, leading news conferences on crime statistics and appearing with Bellone before hurricanes and major snowstorms.

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