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Suffolk County panel formed to combat crime

A panel of Suffolk County executives is visiting historically troubled communities, hoping to help curb lingering crime through citizen partnerships and involvement.

County Executive Steve Bellone introduced the panel at a community policing forum in Huntington Station on Monday night at the Tri Community CYA. The forum is part of a new Suffolk County Police Department initiative to enhance community policing.

"We are fully engaged in an effort to really create a model here, in our county, of working with the community to help a community achieve its highest aspirations," Bellone said.

Loretta Wilson, a Huntington Station resident for more than four decades, said she was glad to let the county know people care for their community.

"I'm taking away a sense of hope from this meeting," Wilson said. "Something is being done on multiple levels, not just from the grassroots, but also from the town and the county level and it's sincere."

The panel includes Risco Mention-Lewis, deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department; Errol Toulon Jr., assistant deputy county executive for Public Safety; Insp. Edward Brady of the Second Precinct; and the Rev. Roderick Pearson, executive director of Suffolk County Human Services.

About 60 residents and community leaders attended Monday's forum. The panel laid out a four-point plan to help rid the area of residual crime, while reiterating the crime rate is significantly lower than in recent years.

The plan includes intelligence-led policing to identify people who commit crimes; community mapping to see if the community has the resources to sustain it; community building to let residents know what the county plan is; and finally reconnecting the disenfranchised to the larger community.

Athena Hawkins, 40, a lifelong Huntington Station resident, applauded the plan.

"There are a lot of troubled teens in our community," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with them -- the county and the teens -- using the tools they suggested."

Residents were also encouraged to ask the panelists questions, which they did. The topics ranged from the perception of Huntington Station as a high-crime area, to how do ex-offenders get jobs, and to mental health issues and the number of bilingual police officers.

Huntington Town Board member Mark Cuthbertson said the commitment to improve communities has to come from everyone.

"It's a team effort and we can't accomplish it without all levels of government coming together," he said. "And it's great that we are here not in a time of crisis."

Town Board member Susan Berland also attended the meeting.

The Huntington Station forum was the second on what county officials are calling a listening tour that will also make stops in Central Islip and Medford. Another was held in Brentwood in January.

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