Children from across Long Island stepped behind bars Sunday as the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office gave public tours of its correctional facility in Yaphank.
Tours were part of an Open House and Family Day event that deputies organized to give Long Islanders a taste of law enforcement duties. Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said the event's goal was to make residents feel a connection with deputies. In addition to jail tours, deputies also demonstrated routine aspects of their job, such as conducting a felony car stop and a K-9-assisted takedown.
"One of the most dangerous things we do as officers is the car stop, believe it or not," Deputy Sheriff Tom Indence told a crowd of about 125. "You never know who you are pulling over. The person could have just got finished robbing a bank or doing some other crime."
During the demonstration, a blue Ford Taurus driven by a volunteer speedster zoomed down a gravel roadway just outside the correctional facility. As a sheriff's deputy chased the Taurus, Indence explained that it's difficult to catch a speeding motorist because deputies must obey traffic laws, while a suspect oftentimes decides to disregards traffic signals.
"We can stop a person for something as simple as a taillight, but you never know what people have or if they want to hurt us," Indence said.
During the K-9 demonstration, Deputy Sheriff Kevin Tracy said police dogs become part of their commanding officer's family.
"My dog sleeps at the foot of my bed every night and follows me around everywhere," he said.
K-9 Officer Phillip, a 6-year-old German shepherd, drew applause as he obeyed commands to follow an officer, stay in ready position, and apprehend someone who is running away.
Deputies gave 30-minute tours of the jail, showing the public the booking area, the jail chapel and the medical unit. Deputies said the Yaphank jail has between 800 to 900 inmates, each allowed two, one-hour visitation sessions per week. The facility has more than 500 cameras that watch every corner of the building, deputies said.
Coram resident Pilar Parsons, a retired corrections officer in Bergen County, New Jersey, came to the open house with her 12-year-old son, Zaire. She went inside the jail because she was curious to see what Suffolk's jail looks like compared to her former facility in Teaneck Tea Neck.
"They used to call my place the country club, but this is like, wow," Parsons said. "I'm very impressed."
Capt. Vincenzo Barone said deputies also host this event because "a lot of people don't know what goes on" at the sheriff's office.
The office is split into a corrections division and an enforcement division. The office operates two jails, one in Yaphank and another in Riverhead, an emergency response unit, and a marine bureau.
Karen Rivers of West Babylon attended the open house with her 11-year-old triplets, Henri, Helaina, and Henniyah. Rivers said she liked that there were plenty of activities for her kids to see and touch.
"I liked seeing the emergency truck because you get to see the stuff they use to save people, and they have a lot of first-aid kits," Henniyah Rivers said.