Republican legislators in Suffolk called on the federal government Tuesday to review county police operations after the arrest and denial of bail to former Chief of Department James Burke, who is charged with beating a suspect and a later cover-up.
“Suffolk County has come under the deep cloud of suspicion and that is unacceptable,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, head of the GOP caucus.
The GOP lawmakers said federal intervention is needed to provide additional resources and an “important element of objectivity” to a review of police operations. They did not discuss the specific role of a federal monitor, or what issues should be reviewed, and did not disclose the federal officials they plan to approach with their request.
McCaffrey, who was joined by four of the five caucus members, called it a public safety issue.
But Justin Meyers, spokesman for Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, dismissed the GOP move as partisan.
“This news conference is political in nature. The goal here is not to bring constructive ideas to the table to improve the police department. The idea is to play politics with an important issue.”
Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he did not expect members of the Democratic caucus to sign on to the Republican letter, which is still being drafted.
Gregory said that while “some of the disclosures have been disturbing,” there is no indication of systemic corruption throughout the police department.
Burke was arrested last week on charges of beating a Smithtown man, Christopher Loeb, who in 2012 stole a duffel bag from the then-chief’s department-issued SUV. Prosecutors said Burke then orchestrated a massive cover-up within the police department of the alleged assault.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler denied bail for Burke, agreeing with prosecutors who argued that the former chief was a danger to the community.
Burke has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys said they will appeal the bail decision.
The Republican lawmakers emphasized that their call for federal intervention was not aimed at rank-and-file county police officers, whom they called “hardworking and dedicated,” but at allegations of mismanagement and political interference at top levels of the department.
Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip), who did not attend the news conference, said it was important to give Bellone’s new police commissioner, Tim Sini, “an opportunity to succeed.”
Barraga said bringing in a monitor would be like saddling the county with a financial control board.
“It sounds great but it doesn’t work,” Barraga said.