Suffolk’s newly appointed top uniformed officer said Tuesday that his top goals are restoring the department’s partnerships with federal agencies and focusing on homeland security.
Stuart Cameron, 54, a 30-year veteran of the department, was officially named to the post on Nov. 12. Appointed Tuesday were Gerard Gigante, 51, a former deputy chief of patrol, who will replace retiring William Madigan as chief of detectives, and Robert Cassagne, 58, former assistant chief of patrol, who will replace Cameron as chief of support.
Both began their new positions Tuesday. John Meehan, 56, will remain as the department’s chief of patrol.
“Picking the right people as division chiefs is extremely critical,” said Cameron before the new chiefs were announced.
The shake-up in top brass comes at a time when the department is trying to recover from a scandal involving its former chief of department James Burke who, sources said, now faces a federal indictment.
Burke left Oct. 27 after sources said federal officials relaunched a probe into allegations that he abused his power when a Smithtown man broke into his department-issued SUV in Dec. 2012. Madigan left the department shortly after Burke, as did two officers in the criminal intelligence unit who were also involved in the arrest.
Cameron, a former chief of support services and assistant chief of patrol, was first appointed interim chief after Burke’s resignation.
“Despite what you may read, the department is a great department. It really is,” Cameron said. “We are going through some tough times right now but I think we’ll emerge stronger and better.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement yesterday that Cameron “represents the best of the Suffolk County Police department. Throughout his career, he has embodied integrity, leadership and intelligence.”
Among his top goals, Cameron said, is restoring the department’s partnerships with federal officials to reap the crime-fighting benefits of combining federal resources and the police department’s local knowledge.
Federally run task forces also have the ability to investigate and prosecute under unique federal criminal and penal codes covering racketeering, drug conspiracy and firearms violations.
Under Burke, the department pulled out of several federal task forces including the Long Island Gang Task force. That departure caused a huge rift between the department’s former leadership and federal officials.
“I think it doesn’t really matter to the taxpayers of Suffolk County who takes a bad guy off the street, whether it’s us or some other agency and I think that is part of being professional,” Cameron said. “All they really care about is criminals getting taken off the street. If someone else can make the arrest better and prosecute them easier or send them away for a longer period of time and get them off the streets, I’m all for that.”
Cameron acknowledged his experience in patrol has influenced him to set stepping up traffic enforcement as another top goal.
“When my children leave my house, my greatest concern is that they’ll be involved in an automobile accident,” Cameron said. “People are very concerned about being involved in an active shooter event or a terrorist event. The reality of it is they are far more likely to be involved in, injured or killed in an automobile accident.”
At the same time, Cameron, who has top clearance to access federal law enforcement information, said counterterrorism enforcement will be a priority of his administration.
An expert in nuclear terrorism, Cameron helped enact New York’s Securing the Cities, a Department of Homeland Security funded program that equips Long Island and New York City police with radiation detectors.
“We developed procedures for something that law enforcement had never been involved with before,” Cameron said. “I never envisioned when I came on the job in 1985 that police officers would be carrying radiological detection equipment which is very common now.”
Cameron said he reads up on each active shooter event, such as the recent shootings in San Bernardino, California, to see if existing training and procedures are adequate to handle them.
“By the same token, we’re also trying to anticipate tactics that have not been used to get out ahead of them. We don’t want to be completely reactionary. We want to be proactive to protect people.”
Seven of the nine pages in his resume list specialized training he has had on how to detect and respond to terrorism of all kinds, including active shooters, biological and chemical threats and suicide bombers.
Cameron also supervised personel during the TWA Flight 800 crash as a sergeant in 1996 and coordinated the multi-agency crime scene at Ocean Parkway that started after four women’s bodies were discovered in Gilgo Beach in 2011. That area was later found to be a dumping ground for 10 sets of remains.
Cameron said he never thought his career would one day land him as the department’s chief and he vowed to be what he termed “a professional.”
“That means, that no matter who my boss is, no matter who the county executive is, who the police commissioner is, I always try to come to work and be a professional police officer,” he said. “I always try to give the taxpayers of Suffolk County an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”