Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron in September.

Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron in September. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Stuart Cameron, the Suffolk police chief of department described by many as a "true gentleman" who served as acting commissioner since May and deftly took over a department rocked by scandal, will retire in January after 37 years.

Cameron, who became acting commissioner after the resignation of Geraldine Hart, has been chief of department since 2015. He took over the highest uniformed position in the force after his predecessor, former Chief James Burke, was forced out in disgrace and later sent to prison for beating a prisoner and trying to cover it up.

County officials and union leaders have praised Cameron for bringing stability and integrity to the department at a time it needed a steady hand, both as chief of department under former Commissioner Timothy Sini, and later as the top cop.

"I will always be grateful that in a moment of crisis for this county when I fired former Chief Jim Burke, (Cameron) stepped up and worked with new Commissioner Tim Sini to quickly restore faith, honor and dignity in the department," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Cameron, 59, said in an interview on Wednesday that while misconduct generated headlines, the majority of Suffolk police officers are on the job to serve the public.

"The work the cops do here is amazing," said Cameron, who also served as acting commissioner in 2018 before Hart was confirmed, "and I’ve had a front-row seat for 37 years."

The announcement of his retirement comes days after Bellone nominated outgoing NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison to lead the 2,400-officer department, the 13th-largest police agency in the nation.

"Stuart Cameron has served the residents of this county with integrity and distinction for 37 years," said Bellone, who called Cameron "one of the finest public servants in Suffolk County history."

Cameron said the department will be in good hands under Harrison. "The new commissioner will be really good and I wish him nothing but success," Cameron said.

Harrison inherits a department with significant challenges. It has struggled to recruit minorities and has come under fire for past corruption and abuse, as well as a sometimes poor relationship with minority communities. But even Cameron's critics say his efforts to combat those problems were genuine.

Tracey Edwards, the Long Island NAACP regional director and frequent police critic who served with Cameron on the task force that developed Suffolk’s 1,000-page reform plan, called the outgoing chief "a true gentleman and public servant."

"He put his all into how best to develop and implement police reforms throughout Suffolk County," Edwards said. "I wish him and his family all the best."

Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DiGerolamo said Cameron earned the trust of his union by emphasizing officer safety, especially in late 2019, after COVID-19’s emergence in China. DiGerolamo said Cameron made sure Suffolk officers received the proper training and personal protective equipment before the virus spread across Long Island in March 2020.

"I do not know of another person who is so universally respected as Acting Commissioner Cameron," DiGerolamo said. "His knowledge of emergency management is unparalleled."

Cameron said he began dreaming about becoming a police officer when he was 3 years old. As he got older, he devoured cop television shows, hoping to get a taste of what his future might hold.

First assigned as a rookie cop to the Second Precinct in Huntington, Cameron has been involved in some of the biggest cases in Suffolk police history. He supervised personnel as a sergeant during the TWA Flight 800 crash in 1996 and coordinated the crime scene at Ocean Parkway after the remains of several women were discovered in Gilgo Beach in 2010. That area was later found to be a dumping ground for 10 sets of remains.

"The one thing I regret is that I won’t be on the job when we solve the Gilgo case and we will solve the Gilgo case," Cameron said, whose tenure as chief of department was marked by a decline in crime and traffic fatalities.

During his time on the force, Cameron became an expert in nuclear terrorism and counterterrorism and 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.

He has received extensive training in how to detect and respond to terrorist threats, including active shooters, biological weapons, chemical threats and suicide bombers.

Cameron also emphasized expanding language access and building relationships with Suffolk’s Latino community, which said police had ignored its concerns after immigrant Marcelo Lucero was fatally stabbed during a 2008 assault in Patchogue.

Cameron also began studying Spanish in 2018, and said he hopes to put those lessons to use by traveling to Spain next year. He’s also planning a trip to Florida with his wife, Margaret, who he called "a saint" for putting up with his long absences from home.

"We’ve been married for 36 years and I love her more than ever," Cameron said. "Now we get to do some things together."

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