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Suffolk County lawmakers question open cop discipline cases

The Suffolk County Police Department has 84 internal affairs complaints against officers that were open for more than 18 months, preventing the department from taking disciplinary action, the top internal affairs official told lawmakers Thursday.

Under police union contracts, the department cannot discipline officers if their cases have been open for more than 18 months. However, the department can close the cases later, and add substantiated complaints to officers’ records.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Barry told county lawmakers at a Public Safety Committee hearing that the department has added internal affairs staff to complete investigations.

In 2016, the department closed 276 cases, the most in the past 10 years, Barry said.

“The men and women in internal affairs are working hard to get that done,” Barry told lawmakers.

According to a report Barry presented to lawmakers Thursday, 84 cases were more than 18 months old as of March 31. One case had been open since 2010, three cases dated to 2011 and eight were opened in 2012, Barry said.

Barry said the department has reduced the number of such cases since county Police Commissioner Timothy Sini took office in March 2016.

“The number of cases that were exceeding the 18-month mark was a glaring problem in the department,” said Assistant Police Commissioner Justin Meyers.

Last year, the legislature passed a bill by Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) that requires the police department to make quarterly reports to the legislature about internal affairs complaints. The report that Barry delivered Thursday was the first.

Hahn sought the legislation as the department tried to recover from a case involving former Chief of Department James Burke, who was sentenced last year to 46 months in federal prison for assaulting a suspect who was in custody and orchestrating a cover-up.

“There has been a real problem in the past, but it sounds like it’s being addressed,” Hahn said after the hearing. “I think we’re pretty pleased about steps taken to better manage and address complaints.”

Lou Tutone, a Suffolk PBA vice president, said, “I think at certain points internal affairs was just so overwhelmed, not with charges but a lack of manpower.”

Also Thursday, the Ways and Means Committee approved a bill backed by county Comptroller John Kennedy that would direct the county attorney to assess the viability of legal action against the Long Island Power Authority for failing to pay $6.6 million in property taxes.

LIPA general counsel Jon Mostel, in a letter to Kennedy, said the authority is abiding by the 2013 LIPA Reform Act intended to prevent steep tax increases from being passed on to ratepayers through electric bills.

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