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Suffolk commish recants email to lawmakers

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber speaks during

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber speaks during a school safety seminar at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. (Jan. 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber has backed away from an email asking county legislators to funnel all information requests through his office after lawmakers lodged a flurry of complaints.

In a memo to the 18 lawmakers Tuesday, Webber called it "imperative to the continuity of the department that information requests and inquiries are handled through my office . . . Should you need statistics, have questions about legislation, have a constituent issue, or any other police matter."

But Webber backtracked Friday after at least three legislators complained to him. In an interview, Webber called the message poorly worded and said, "in no way do we want to restrict communication."

With seven police precincts spread over 18 legislative districts, many legislators called the new policy impractical, saying it likely would hamper their ability to respond to constituent concerns about traffic, crime and other issues. Some noted that when Webber took over the department last year, he promised precinct commanders more authority and flexibility.

"It looks like they're micromanaging precincts. I wouldn't want to think that's what's happening," Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Public Safety Committee chairwoman, said before Webber reversed course.

Browning said her district, which includes three precincts, generates daily complaints about issues including traffic dangers and suspected drug houses. "I can't imagine, if you have 18 legislators reaching out to police headquarters and the commissioner's office for things they used to get from their precincts, how it makes things more efficient," she said.

Webber said he never intended to cut off lawmakers from precincts. He said he simply wanted to be aware of their requests so he could follow up should commanders not reply promptly."I want to make sure we get timely, accurate information to the people," Webber said.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he expressed his concern to Webber's office and was reassured that he still could contact precincts in most cases. "I'm satisfied it's going to be business as usual," Cilmi said.

Aides to County Executive Steve Bellone said they were unaware of Webber's email.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he was willing to cut Webber some slack because, before the email, the department has been run openly.

"Everyone deserves a mulligan," he said.


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