The Suffolk County Police Department needs to hire more officers and repair its relationship with federal law enforcement partners to combat an increase in gun killings and other violent crimes linked to gangs, Suffolk legislators said Monday.
The bipartisan advice from Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was in response to a Newsday report showing gun killings in the county increased 233 percent -- from three to 10 -- and other violent gun crimes more than 30 percent -- from 154 to 203 -- in the first six months of this year compared with the same time last year.
"I think they're being more of a reactive police department than a proactive police department, simply because they do not have the resources that they need to be proactive," said Browning, who blamed the surge on gang violence. "We need more resources. We need more police on the street."
A high number of retirements -- and the department's slowness to refill the ranks, has brought the force to "an all-time low," said Browning, who in a May letter to Bellone decried the number of sworn officers and pointed to the 2,726 sworn officers on the force in 2004. There have been 80 retirements this year and the current force is 2,340, police said Monday.
Jon Schneider, the county's deputy executive for intergovernmental affairs, said despite the increases in gun crimes, overall crime in the county is down 6.8 percent year to date.
"Obviously the fact that there's an increase in any area is unacceptable to us," Schneider said.
Schneider pointed to County Executive Steve Bellone's recent hiring of a new class of 100 police recruits who will start training this month, the largest single class since 2006, and accused "politicians" of "cherry-picking" statistics.
"We need to hire more police to keep up with the retirements, and we're doing that," Schneider said, adding that Bellone, a Democrat, is "comfortable" with the current size of the force.
Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo said, "As a union representative I'm always welcome to having a greater level of staffing within my membership in order to ensure our ability to provide the highest level of service to the public that we are tasked with giving. However, I do recognize the fiscal constraints we're working within and I'm confident that given the current hiring that the county executive already announced -- and the future hiring I'm sure the county will continue to do moving forward -- that we will maintain the current level of staffing, if not grow, moving forward."
Jim O'Connor, the Republican and Conservative candidate running against Bellone, said in a statement that the county executive's 2012 disbandment of the county's FBI Anti-Gang Unit is to blame for the spike in gun crimes.
Schneider disputed that, pointing to the county's decision to reverse itself and reinstate two detectives to the unit less than a year later -- after an uproar due to a spate of killings linked to the MS-13 gang.
Trotta, a former Suffolk police officer, said despite the department's move to restore the unit, it has lost its punch, making fewer arrests. "A big part of it is the lack of cooperation between Suffolk County and federal law enforcement," Trotta said. "Since Bellone's been in, since [Chief of Department James] Burke's been in, it's deteriorated. There's a lack of trust."
In response to Trotta's comments, Suffolk Chief of Detectives William Madigan said in an email: "There is a strong working relationship between the Suffolk County Police Department and our Federal Law enforcement partners, which is one reason why crime is at historical lows in Suffolk County."