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New Suffolk police commissioner introduced

Newly-appointed Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber and

Newly-appointed Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber and newly-appointed Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis shake hands in front of Yaphank Police Headquarters where they were officially announced in their new positions by Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone (July 25, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

It wasn't until the night of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's state of the county message in April that acting police Commissioner Edward Webber first expressed interest in taking the job full time.

A committee already had begun interviewing 10 contenders from a nationwide search, and Webber was added to the list. Webber, a nearly 40-year police veteran, ultimately became the "unanimous choice," said search committee chairman Kevin Law.

Wednesday, Bellone completed the selection process, nominating Webber, 65, to become the department's 12th commissioner in its half-century history.

"Under Commissioner Webber, morale is up, overtime is down and we are doing more effective policing," Bellone said at a news conference outside police headquarters in Yaphank. "With all that's been accomplished in the last six months, why would I want to change that? The answer is simple -- I don't. Ed Webber is the right choice. He's my choice."

The county executive also formally named Risco Mention-Lewis, a 19-year Nassau assistant district attorney, as deputy commissioner. She is the first woman and first person of color to serve as deputy commissioner and will focus on lowering crime levels by reducing recidivism.

Webber must be confirmed by the county legislature, but legislative leaders in both parties Wednesday praised his credentials.

Webber, of Bay Shore, said in remarks that he "never imagined" becoming commissioner when the department first hired him on a "snowy day in 1972." He promised that "Our police mission will be as it always has been -- to serve and protect all the people of Suffolk County, while enforcing the laws with impartiality, respect and compassion."

While the national search ended at home, Bellone said the process was necessary because at the outset he initially did not know Webber beyond his reputation as being knowledgeable about finances as a certified public accountant with a master's in business administration.

But by the time Webber expressed interest, Bellone had begun "to see the effects of the leadership of the acting commissioner."

Law, head of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said there were 75 applicants from 20 states, plus one from Africa.

District Attorney Thomas Spota, who criticized the operation of the department under former County Executive Steve Levy, praised Webber's hiring.

"The right decision has been made," Spota said.

Bellone said Mention-Lewis was not a candidate for police commissioner but he knew her from the Wyandanch Rising Project when he was Babylon Town supervisor and "recognized her as an innovator." He said he made the selection after consulting with both Webber and Chief of Department James Burke.

Bellone said her hiring means the department "will be fully engaged in breaking the cycle of recidivism as a way to effectively use limited resources to reduce crime and save taxpayers' money."

Webber will likely take the department's helm fully just as Bellone makes final decisions about the county's proposed 2013 operating budget, due out in mid-September, in which the $400 million department with 2,400 officers and 550 civilians has a major impact on property taxes.

Webber on Wednesday said the department "could definitely use more personnel," but both he and Bellone said no decisions have been made about next year's budget. A police class budgeted for this year has all but been abandoned, given the estimated looming shortfall of about $300 million. Bellone said "We recognize there are personnel needs in the department," but said only that Webber and Burke are "developing strategies" to deal with the issue.

Burke said Webber has not only restored departmental morale but his fiscal expertise give officers comfort. "It's not the bad guys -- the robbers and the rapists -- that scare the men and women of the Suffolk County police. . . . It's when you start talking about the budget -- the B-word -- that's what scares us all." Having Webber in charge, he said "Makes us all sleep well at night."

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