Six Suffolk residents -- two clergymen, an attorney, a psychotherapist, a community activist and a retired police officer -- are the first appointees to a sheriff's office advisory board designed to resolve conflicts between the agency and the public.
The all-volunteer board filled by Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco Thursday is the first of its kind in the county. It would create subcommittees to "further promote communication and understanding" among the public and the sheriff's office, a news release from DeMarco's office says. A similar group, the Nassau County Jail Advisory Committee, has been in service for decades.
DeMarco's statement also said that the panel was established to preserve "public trust in county law enforcement" since law enforcement has been "the subject of intense media scrutiny in the past year."
DeMarco said the board could help educate the public on how the sheriff's office handles nonjail issues, such as evictions.
"We want issues raised and resolved," he said. "If people in the community have issues with us, bring them up."
But Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the board smoke and mirrors at a time when jails are the subject of federal litigation regarding conditions such as overcrowding and safety.
"While it is a good step toward transparency and accountability," he wrote in an email, what's needed "is action, not just more bureaucracy."
The Suffolk group, which will meet monthly and for the first time in February, will "provide annual reviews to the Sheriff concerning complaints and testimony from the community" and "review and comment on programs."
The members are the Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Riverhead; the Rev. Francis Pizzarelli, a Montfort Missionary Roman Catholic priest; Barrie Jacobsen, a psychotherapist; Jaime A. Marcos, an attorney; Robert Lloyd, executive director of Long Island Citizens for Community Values; and Daniel Wild, a retired New York City police officer and U.S. Navy veteran.In Nassau, where a civic group has for decades met with the sheriff to discuss the jail's impact on the community, the jail is poised to entertain another board designed to address problems confronting inmates.
The Board of Visitors was supposed to be established by the county executive as long as two decades ago when it was written into the county charter, but such a board has never been created.
State Supreme Court Justice James P. McCormack ruled in a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union that County Executive Edward Mangano must nominate seven people to the board, which Mangano did soon after the March 24, 2013, order.
But the county legislature has not yet confirmed seven appointees.
"The frustrating thing for us is there's a lack of clarity," said Jason Starr, director of NYCLU's Nassau chapter, who wondered why the board is still not formed 10 months after McCormack's decision. "It's nice to have some names but it does seem like more of the same from the county. If the board is going to be functional, now is the time."