Suffolk Police Commissioner-designee Geraldine Hart said Thursday she will “build on” what she described as the department’s recent success in combating gangs and the opioid scourge that have collectively killed hundreds of people on Long Island.
Hart, 50, of Sea Cliff, the senior supervisory resident agent in the Long Island office of the FBI, announced no new initiatives Thursday as she made her public debut during a news conference in Hauppauge. Instead she said she would improve on the department’s ongoing performance by drawing on her own long experience in law enforcement as well as consulting with veteran police brass.
“By every measure the Suffolk County Police Department is doing a better job now than anytime in history,” Hart said. “So with that in mind, I want to continue with the priorities of eradicating opioids, eradicating gangs, MS-13 in particular.”
County Executive Steve Bellone introduced Hart as his choice for top cop, saying her “integrity” and experience vaulted her to the top of the heap of more than 100 candidates. Officials said applicants included those from Suffolk and Nassau police departments and the NYPD, as well as other states.
“Gang issues, drug issues, the opioid epidemic, violent crime — these are all things she has tremendous expertise in,” Bellone said.
While police and federal authorities have arrested and prosecuted scores of gang members following a series of high-profile MS-13 killings on Long Island, federal authorities estimate there are still some 2,000 members of the gang on Long Island. And more than 400 people died of opioid overdoses — a record — in the county last year, according to official projections.
Bellone also on Thursday named Chief Stuart Cameron, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the department, as acting commissioner. Once Hart begins working in the department in mid-April, she’ll have that title until the Legislature confirms her appointment. Cameron will then return to his role as chief of department.
Bellone lavished praise on Cameron, a 33-year department veteran, who would not say whether he had applied for the commissioner spot.
“The accomplishments we’ve seen over the last couple of years . . . that’s because of his work and his service,” said Bellone.
The announcement of Hart, who has led the FBI office in Melville since 2014, came on the same day that a federal indictment was unsealed against Rob Walker, long a top aide to former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, on allegations that he lied to the FBI. Mangano is also under federal indictment and facing trial next month on corrupt charges.
Hart wouldn’t comment on Walker’s case.
Hart’s team also investigated James Burke, the former Suffolk Police chief currently serving a 46-month federal prison term for beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up. The county recently settled a civil case with the victim, Christopher Loeb, for $1.5 million.
The Burke case also allegedly ensnared former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who is facing federal charges in connection with the cover-up of the beating. Spota has pleaded not guilty.
In 2015, Bellone appointed Hart’s predecessor, Timothy Sini, a former federal prosecutor. Asked about his motivation for making that appointment and then nominating the person who headed the FBI office that investigated and arrested Burke — whom he promoted to police chief — Bellone said: “These were the right people at the right time to lead and that is the only reason why Gerri Hart is sitting here today as the nominee.”