Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks in an undated handout photo from...

Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks in an undated handout photo from the Suffolk County Police Department. Credit: SCPD

As a boy, Robert Reecks was fascinated by cars and motorcycles. He dreamed of being a police officer.

As a man, he owned a Harley-Davidson and spent three decades rising through the ranks in the Suffolk County Police Department.

Saturday, Reecks, who was off duty, died when his unmarked police car crashed into a concrete bridge support on Sunrise Highway in Moriches. He was 57.

Reecks, a detective sergeant, was a 30-year police veteran. For 13 years, he headed the department's bias-crimes unit until he was replaced in January.

He led investigations into a wide range of hate crimes -- from the painting of a swastika on a Nesconset barbershop and vandalism of a Ronkonkoma church to the high-profile beatings of Mexican day laborers in Farmingville.

Reecks was born Feb. 8, 1954, to the late Edward and Clyde Winona Reecks of Great Neck, both of whom were New York City public school educators and civil rights activists. Edward Reecks was a member of the 1944 Class of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Robert Reecks was aware of racial prejudice and social injustice at an early age.

"We had grown up in civil rights times," said Robert Reecks' eldest sister, Debra Reecks-Rodgers, 62, of Elmont. ". . . We have dealt with fostering integration all of our lives."

Robert Reecks graduated from Great Neck South Senior High School in 1974 and went on to study at Queensborough Community College before landing a job with the Hertz rental car company.

In fact, Reecks always loved cars, Reecks-Rodgers said. "From age 5 he could tell you the make and model of any car," she said.

What excited him most, though, was getting accepted into the police academy.

"It was the happiest day of his life," Reecks-Rodgers said.

Reecks started as a police officer in 1981, rising through the ranks from a road supervisor to officer in command in the highway patrol bureau and DWI unit. In 1992, he became one of the few African-Americans to earn a sergeant's rank in the Suffolk County Police Department.

In 1998, then-Police Commissioner John C. Gallagher appointed Reecks to lead the county hate-crimes unit. In 2003, he became special assistant to the commissioner, replacing Det. Wes Daley, who had retired.

"I could always rely on him for being honest and straightforward with me," said Gallagher, who retired from the commissioner's job in 2004.

Reecks' police work was honored by the New York Law Enforcement Foundation, and his efforts to fight hate crimes were recognized by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups.

He was a civic-minded neighbor -- the first on the block to report potholes or broken streetlights, said Joann Bonne, who has lived next door to Robert and his wife Rita Reecks, 61, in Riverhead since 1994.

"He was just a great person all around," said Bonne, 42.

Other survivors include his sister Marcia Reecks of Los Angeles; brother Warren Reecks of Fort Washington, Md.; and stepsons Michael and Joseph Caputo. Funeral plans have not been announced.

With Jeremy Schneider

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