WOODBURY - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has been taking some heat over his failure to quickly re-appoint a task force on family violence.
Under a policy begun under County Executive Pat Halpin in 1988, counseling agencies, police officials, judges and others have met frequently as part of a county executive's task force to strategize on ways to combat family violence. However, interviews and Freedom of Information Law requests show that County Executive Steve Bellone failed to reinstate the task force when he took office 2 1/2 years ago.
“It was discouraging,” says Ruth Reynolds, Director of Advocacy for the counseling and shelter agency VIBS. “It didn’t seem like domestic violence took as high a priority as it had in the past, in previous administrations.”
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Reynolds says that for the past few years, her counseling group and others had pressed Bellone to reinstate the task force. Former Suffolk Family Court Judge Gregory Blass was also critical of Bellone. “The task force has a vital role….tweaking the system, finding out what’s going wrong, keeping on top of issues that come up.”
Bellone only recently appointed his own task force, a group that met for the first time this month. That was after the administration learned of News 12 and Newsday's plans for the in-depth "Unprotected" series on domestic violence, which ran earlier in August. Bellone officials deny any connection.
Through a spokesman, County Executive Steve Bellone refused to be interviewed on the issue, citing litigation in a recent domestic violence related murder covered heavily by Newsday and News 12. But in a written statement, the spokesman said the county has maintained an active “working group” that has functioned “pro-actively” and “collaboratively” with victims organizations. The spokesman also said that the Bellone administration has won increases in grants for domestic violence programs and implemented a nationally acclaimed domestic violence database.
However, sources tell News 12 that some of that touted work began before Bellone took office. And they insist the absence of a Family Violence Task Force for more than two years in Suffolk County was a loss in the fight to protect vulnerable victims.
Newsday did get several calls from victims groups who praised Bellone. Officials confirmed domestic violence organizations receive funds from the county.