The Suffolk PBA building in Brentwood, shown in August 2016.

The Suffolk PBA building in Brentwood, shown in August 2016. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

In contract negotiations with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and other police unions, it’s County Executive Steve Bellone’s job to fight for the taxpayers, and against big raises and fat perks for law enforcement.

In May 2019, when Bellone approved a new PBA contract that would guarantee officers with at least 15 years on the job annual pay of at least $200,000 a year, he argued it was far better than the county would have done in mandatory arbitration. And for his reelection race later that year, the political arms of Suffolk's police unions spent $830,000 on Bellone's bid. Overall, the PBA, through its traditional political action committee and its Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation super PAC, spent millions supporting Bellone in his three county executive races.

The Suffolk PBA exceeds $5,000 annual limits on direct political contributions and contributions to its PAC, a recent Newsday investigation showed. It fails to pay taxes on money it spends on direct political contributions, a violation for nonprofit corporations. It collects $1 a day from the county’s cops for political spending, but officers say they have not authorized that paycheck deduction as required by law. Police reform groups and taxpayer organizations have accused the Suffolk PBA's super PAC of making illegal contributions.

But in New York, both the election laws meant to prevent undue influence and any enforcement of those prohibitions are weak. If you break the law you probably won’t get caught, if you get caught you generally won’t get punished, and if you get punished it mostly won’t be harsh.

Nobody with authority is eager to go after powerful police unions, but someone has to. Suffolk County legislator and retired cop Rob Trotta, who has been pushing for investigations of PBA political activity, believes District Attorney Tim Sini has the power to prosecute. Sini says he lacks jurisdiction. Sini received $23,000 in direct contributions and benefited from $329,600 in super PAC spending from Suffolk’s cop unions in 2017.

Trotta is also working to get federal law enforcement interested, and believes the police themselves can investigate, but has gotten no concrete action. Gerald McCarthy, a recently retired three-star chief in the SCPD, filed an ethics complaint with the county comptroller over dues to support political activity which he says were taken out of his pay without permission. The Suffolk comptroller, John Kennedy, told McCarthy his office lacked jurisdiction.

Then there is the state Board of Elections Enforcement Counsel, which has jurisdiction but little history of effective action. That history needs to change. Taxpayers need to get loud, demanding current laws be upheld and stricter ones be passed.

Elected officials need to refuse any direct contributions from Suffolk’s police unions and repudiate support from the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, whose contributions they cannot stop.

Sini, Bellone and county and state legislators need to side with the constituents paying them to uphold our laws, not a PBA which flaunts them.

— The editorial board

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