Burdened by patterns of nepotism and racial bias, and a culture of corruption, the Suffolk County Police Department has not earned the benefit of the doubt.
The promotion of Sgt. Salvatore Gigante, the nephew of Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante, to a lucrative position supervising detectives in the district attorney’s office is a personnel move that must be scrutinized for even the slightest appearance of improper behavior. The Suffolk County Legislature must postpone any vote authorizing his promotion to a job that can pay more than $300,000 a year, with overtime, until the Justice Department completes an investigation into the hiring process.
According to a whistleblower report compiled for the legislature, Salvatore Gigante had the fewest qualifications of the five applicants given serious consideration. Gigante has four months of experience as a sergeant, two years as a detective and 12 years on the force. The four others who applied had served one to seven years as detective sergeants, two to eight years as supervisors and 16 to 24 years with the department.
What they do not have is Uncle Gerard. Detractors say it’s the reason Gigante was awarded the job. The report contained no proof of that, but the relationship means the county’s anti-nepotism law requires this oversight, and the legislature must take it seriously.
Last week, Det. Sgt. Jeffrey Walker, a black 25-year veteran of the force who was passed over for the position, testified to the legislature that he was told he would not get the job because of “politics.” Sgt. Tulio Serrata, a Hispanic 20-year veteran of the force with experience in homicide and anti-gang units, said he was not allowed to interview.
But Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart says Gigante’s uncle removed himself from the selection process and Gigante was the only applicant with experience working in the district attorney’s office. She also said he has special skills with social media and technology like smartphones, and is the best pick.
This department operates under a federal oversight agreement that began in 2014, in response to complaints about its interactions with Latino residents after the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero. That oversight was to last three years, but continues because the department has not improved enough, though there has been progress. The SCPD only last week got around to tasking a supervisor with rooting out ethical issues related to tainted prosecutions after a judge threw out a 1976 murder conviction because of illegal actions taken by police and prosecutors. Let’s not forget that former Police Chief James Burke served nearly four years in prison for beating a handcuffed man and orchestrating a cover-up of the assault that included Suffolk cops lying to cover for Burke.
In March, when it came out that the feds were investigating Gigante’s promotion, County Executive Steve Bellone withdrew his request for an exception to the anti-nepotism rule. But last week, he again sent the resolution to the legislature. It should be withdrawn or tabled until the Justice Department reports its findings. When it comes to the proper management of the Suffolk County Police Department, there is no presumption of innocence. — The editorial board