Credit: James Carbone

Why have Suffolk County law enforcement unions unethically and in my view illegally spent over two million dollars on the campaigns of former District Attorney Tim Sini and County Executive Steve Bellone?

Because they could.

The pair, like the overwhelming majority of local politicians from both parties, have eagerly benefited from the expenditures with little regard for their questionable origins. And, as a result, the power and influence of the unions has continued to grow exponentially, evident by contractual raises received that are more than twice the cost of living.

However, at long last the Suffolk law enforcement union grip on local politics has begun to slip. Thanks to a recent opinion issued by the Suffolk County Board of Ethics, the clearly unethical and in my view illegal campaign finance practices employed by Suffolk’s law enforcement unions have been officially called out. It’s time for our newly appointed police commissioner, newly elected district attorney, and idle — or just willfully ignorant — state authorities to do their part to end these unethical and corrupt practices once and for all.

The time for turning a blind eye is over. The Suffolk County Board of Ethics had the courage to tell the truth. Other agencies and elected officials must now step up and end this hypocrisy. Bellone benefiting from millions of dollars in campaign expenditures from unions and then negotiating and signing off on unjustifiable contracts featuring unaffordable pay raises is a betrayal of our taxpayers. Law enforcement unions blatantly disregarding the law to garner political favor at taxpayers’ expense is disgraceful, and cannot be allowed to continue.

My repeated calls for action and pleas to bring an end to these corrupt practices have been continually ignored by virtually every elected official and agency from several police commissioners, Bellone and Sini to the state attorney general, state Board of Elections and many more. While disheartening, their unresponsiveness has come as no surprise, as these individuals and agencies are benefiting from donations and other support directly or indirectly.

The Ethics Board’s formal opinion makes it clear that, due to the unique relationship between an elected district attorney and police, his/her acceptance of campaign contributions from police unions creates the “appearance of impropriety” and constitutes a violation of the county’s Code of Ethics. The opinion opens the door to whether police union campaign contributions made to other elected officials also represent a violation of the ethics code, indicating that potential violations would have to be assessed on a “case by case” basis.

For years, the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association has been taking $1 per day from every member to use for political purposes without their formal consent, a violation of state election law. The PBA also has violated another part of election law by moving in excess of $5,000 per year from its corporation to its political action committee. And it has violated yet another provision which prohibits officers from soliciting or receiving funds for political purposes. These actions also violate the Suffolk County Police Department’s own rules and procedures, which cite state election law. While the union’s actions should not reflect negatively on our hardworking rank-and-file police officers, unfortunately, it is hard to escape the stain of such impropriety.

Trust in government is paramount in our society. When those entrusted with preserving law and order knowingly break the law to manipulate public policy and enrich themselves, they must be held accountable or that trust will be forever broken.

This guest essay reflects the views of Suffolk County Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a retired Suffolk County police officer.

This guest essay reflects the views of Suffolk County Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a retired Suffolk County police officer.

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