In a major shake-up of the Suffolk County police's most demanding investigative team, Commissioner Richard Dormer replaced the head of the Homicide Squad and transferred out a homicide detective who colleagues call one of the department's most talented.
The order issued late Friday puts a new commander in charge of solving homicides - there were 33 in the county last year - and moved into the squad detectives who had been primarily responsible for catching bank robbers. Detectives say the squad is the department's most prestigious and pressure-filled.
Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Homicide Squad since 2002, is reassigned to lead Fourth Squad detectives in Hauppauge, considered the county's quietest precinct.
Det. Sgt. Edward Fandry, now one of three homicide team leaders and a widely lauded murder investigator, will join Second Squad detectives in Huntington.
Union officials and several department sources who asked for anonymity Saturday called Fitzpatrick's and Fandry's reassignments retribution for a dispute last year over standby pay and scheduling, a charge Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone vigorously denied.
Varrone praised the work of Fitzpatrick and others, and said the changes were intended to get "new eyes" on cases and squad management.
"It's not unusual for a large police department to make personnel changes and it's our prerogative to do so," Varrone said. "Change in an organization is usually good."
Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky, who had headed First Precinct detectives, will be the homicide squad's new commanding officer effective Monday.
Det. Sgt. Robert Doyle of the Major Case Investigations Unit and all five detectives assigned there will move to the Homicide Squad, dissolving the major cases unit.
Doyle and the five detectives will form a new team within homicide, Varrone said. In addition to bank robberies, they will also work on cold homicide cases, he said.
In a statement, Dormer called the changes "a good way to get fresh ideas" and not a reflection on the work of those transferred.
Pelkofsky "has wanted a shot at homicide for a long time and frankly I think he deserves a shot," Varrone said.
Last July, Dormer eliminated standby pay for homicide and some other detectives - two hours' salary for being on call overnight - and later made a scheduling change that staffed the squad except between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
After Edgar Villalobos, 28, of Bay Shore, was slashed to death shortly before 1 a.m. on July 20 in Brentwood, five homicide detectives were called and either did not answer the phone or said they were unavailable. Villalobos' body lay uncovered for more than eight hours.
The issue became the focus of late-summer legislative hearings at which Dormer was questioned about the department's handling of the crime scene.
Dormer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy defended the department's response, saying detectives' late arrival did not delay the crime-scene work or the removal of Villalobos' body.
After negotiations between Levy and the detective's union, the standby pay was reinstated in October.
Several department sources and union officials tied the reassignments to the Villalobos incident and subsequent union negotiations.
Dormer "was annoyed at that standby thing or that things didn't go his way," said Ray Griffin, president of the detectives union.
Levy spokesman Mark Smith said the county executive "was made aware of the change when implemented" and played no role in the decision. He added that the changes had nothing to do with budget issues.
Varrone said the new assignments - which raise the number of homicide detectives to 26 - will "absolutely not" effect scheduling or standby pay policy.
Several department sources voiced dismay at Fandry's reassignment. "Ed Fandry is considered one of the most capable and intelligent homicide detectives this department may have ever seen," said a police official who credited Fandry with closing many difficult homicide cases. "He's really given his life to this thing."
With Rick Brand