News 12/Newsday report: Tim Sini reflects on 1st year as commissioner
When Tim Sini took the position of Suffolk police commissioner one year ago, he inherited a list of personal and departmental challenges.
For starters, the former federal prosecutor never served as a police officer. At 35 years old, he was also the youngest to be named police commissioner in the history of the Suffolk County Police Department.
"There's no question that when I came into this department there were a lot of skeptics," admitted Sini, who spoke with News 12 Long Island. "When I came into this job, it was very important that my team improved the direction of the department and we improved safety for the residents of Suffolk County."
Sini says that meant a "top-to-bottom" staff assessment and making sure officers had the tools and technology needed to do the job.
The commissioner also came in at a time when the department was rocked by scandal. Former Police Chief James Burke was accused and later convicted of beating a suspect who had stolen a duffle bag from his car, and then orchestrating an elaborate cover-up with other members of the force. Sini refuses to say how many were involved in that cover-up due to a request from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"They have an ongoing investigation and they don't want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation," he told News 12. "I don't believe further arrests will be made of any active member of the Suffolk County Police Department. There's no reason to believe that whatsoever."
Critics say the Burke case and Sini's relative silence on the issue is a good example of why the police should not be policing themselves. In the wake of the scandal, there have been renewed calls for a civilian complaint review board to investigate claims against members of the department. Sini says he supports the idea based on the NYPD model.
"Their decisions are not binding on the police commissioner, but they're certainly advisory and that does add a level of public accountability," says Sini.
While statistics show crime is down overall in Suffolk, there's been an uptick in murders, which Sini attributes to gangs. Getting them off the streets is one of his top priorities.
In communities like Brentwood, where gangs have been linked to several murders, Sini hopes his Firearms Suppression Team, known as FAST, can make a difference.
As for the department's diversity, Sini says they have improved in recruiting Hispanic officers. Nearly 15 percent of the force is of Hispanic descent. But he admits that much more needs to be done to attract African-Americans to the department.
Sini says the biggest problem facing the Suffolk County Police Department and Long Island in general is still the heroin epidemic. He says final numbers will probably show more than 300 opiate-related overdoses in Suffolk last year.
"We're talking close to 800 Narcan saves, so those would have been deaths if not for our brave men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department saving those individuals," he says.