A screen shot from the May 28 Zoom presentation. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowing other public health issues, Stony Brook Medicine Trauma Center workers have not forgotten the issues that occur on the road due to distracted driving.
A visual used in the distracted driving program. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine
According to Stony Brook Medicine, reckless and distracted driving is the number one killer of American teenagers. To reduce car crashes and injuries the trauma center has trained more than 2,500 students in safe driving in the Commack, Central Islip and Middle Country school districts since 2016. This year, with no in-school teaching, the pandemic created a challenge in keeping the message going..
To reach teenagers this year, the trauma center decided to make the annual presentation virtual. On May 28 in three sessions, Commack High School students took part in the nationally recognized teen safe driving program Impact Teen Drivers. The trauma center is the first in New York to offer the program, according to Injury Prevention & Outreach coordinator for Stony Brook Medicine Trauma Center, Kristi Ladowski, who is a liaison for Impact Teen Drivers.
Heather Leggio, Commack High School psychologist and Students Against Drunk Driving club adviser, said remote learning had been taking place for two months, which helped with the new virtual presentation, since a process was already in place. The psychologist said she felt the virtual version enabled more to participate and there was a constant stream of discussion.
Ladowski said when she started looking into different programs a few years ago she kept going back to the California-based Impact Teen Drivers program. She said among its strengths are the supportive staff members, research- and evidence-based material and that the program doesn’t incorporate the usual scare tactics that other programs have used.
She said using statistics and real stories the program connects with teenagers on a visceral level. She added that, from the beginning, Commack was on board with the program, and the trauma center partnered with the high school’s SADD group.
“Commack School District with the SADD students and their health classes just really connected with the program and has run it year after year with such success so it’s been such a great partnership,” Ladowski said.
In the past, Ladowski presented the program in schools in a small classroom setting to connect better with students, and in Commack, SADD members were trained and then the club members took the lead and ran the program in their 10th-grade classes.
“We’re happy to go to the school, and I will run the program as the instructor, but to really embed it in a school is what we’re looking for, and to see the passion that these young students have to take on the program and make it their own and really connect with their peers to make a difference — that’s what’s really great about working with the Commack School District,” she said.
Sara Decker, Commack High School social worker, said everyone is motivated and passionate about the program, and health teachers have also been advocates for halting distracted driving..
“As the program went on for different years, we were able to recruit more SADD members through this presentation in our classes and it really gave our club a rejuvenation,” she said. “Commack students really got behind this important topic from the beginning.”
Decker said Ladowski gave this year’s virtual presentation over Zoom and afterward the students were able to chat and ask questions. SADD students and teachers helped to moderate the chat.
Ladowski said during the course she goes over risky behaviors such as the application of lipstick or eating and drinking that can be lethal while driving a car.
A visual used in the distracted driving program. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine
“It constantly brings it back to our choices and then it also brings in relating everyday activities, things like lipstick application, doing our hair, eating and drinking, using our cellphones,” Ladowski said. “These everyday things that we do by themselves that are not dangerous, but as soon as we make the choice to do it in a car, it can become dangerous and deadly. We don’t get a second chance, so it’s so important to make good decisions every time we’re in the car.”
Ladowski added that passengers should do their part not to distract drivers and also speak up when they don’t feel safe.
Leggio said the students quickly understand that anything that they do that’s not 100 percent focused on driving is considered a distraction. She said they suggest for students to have a plan every time they go in a car as far as how many passengers they feel comfortable having in the car and a rule for everyone to wear seatbelts.
The program, Leggio said, empowers the students and agrees that it’s helpful that it doesn’t rely on scare tactics. She added that when the SADD students give the presentation, the younger ones look up to them.
“The kids don’t get turned off by it immediately,” she said. “They recognize it as a logical, rational explanation. It just makes sense.”
Decker and Leggio said in the past they noticed many students realized mistakes their parents have made while driving.
“A lot of them recognize what their parents are doing is not okay, and it kind of empowers them to go home and kind of remind mom and dad they shouldn’t be texting and driving or taking a call,” Leggio said.
Ladwoski said the family discussion is important because sometimes more experienced drivers don’t perceive the risks as such.
“It’s such a rational process to have that aha moment,” she said, adding that parents may rethink certain behaviors like taking calls while driving to set a better example.
While the other districts weren’t able to use the virtual version of the program this year, Ladowski is hoping to offer it to libraries so more teenagers can take advantage of it during the summer vacation.
Suffolk County Police, in conjunction with state and local police on Long Island, conducted a month-long focused enforcement effort specifically targeting distracted driving between April 1 and April 30.
During the focused enforcement effort, Suffolk County police officers issued more than 930 citations for distracted driving violations, yielding a 117 percent increase compared to the same time period in 2015.
Suffolk County police officers responded to 3,320 crashes in April 2016, an 11.75 percent decrease for the same time period of 2015.
New York State Police Troop L issued 810 citations during the initiative, including 470 cell phone tickets, 314 texting tickets and 26 Move Over Law tickets.
The initiative specifically targeted motorists who were driving while distracted by texting or talking on mobile devices due to the strong correlation between these violations and motor vehicle crashes. Drivers who did not abide by New York’s Move Over Law were also cited.
This law protects law enforcement officers, emergency workers, tow and service vehicle operators and other maintenance workers stopped along roadways while performing their duties.
The initiative, which was funded by the governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, was carried out across the state.
The additional police resources were funded through a $450,000 grant allocated to state police specifically for year-round distracted driving enforcement.
October 17, 2019
Legislator Sarah Anker and challenger Gary Pollakusky during a debate at the Sound Beach Firehouse. Photo by David Luces
County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Gary Pollakusky, the challenger, dueled at a meet the candidates night hosted by the Sound Beach Civic Association Oct. 14. Anker has served as the Suffolk County 6th District legislator for the past eight years and is seeking another two-year term. Pollakusky is looking to unseat the incumbent after an unsuccessful run for the same position in 2017.
Here are some of the topics the candidates discussed.
Suffolk’s fiscal situation
Pollakusky criticized how the county handles its finances. He said there have been seven bond downgrades since 2012 and the structural deficit is between $85 and $150 million.
“We have raised taxes and fees by $200 million in the last eight years; we are not doing the right thing by our residents,” he said.
Anker disagreed saying that the county has never had a junk bond status.
“We’ve never been there,” she said, adding the county has a AAA bond rating in long-term debt services.
“When I took office in 2011, there was a $500 million deficit, we changed that,” the legislator said. “We are anywhere near $50 to $60 million. We are cleaning up the house, we really are.”
The incumbent also said the county has since streamlined services, combined departments and reduced staff.
Both candidates agreed that the opioid epidemic is still an ongoing problem on Long Island.
Pollakusky said there are three ways to address the epidemic. He would look into finding prevention programs for schools whether they be assembly or curriculum based.
The challenger touched on law enforcement.
“Our law enforcement is so important to the process of fighting this opioid epidemic. We have hundreds of drug dealing homes along the North Shore,” he said. “These are consistent offenders, we don’t have enough boots on the ground, law enforcement is thinned staffed and that’s because our county is fiscally irresponsible.”
Pollakusky criticized Anker for voting to close the Foley center, a nursing and rehabilitation facility, saying treatment programs are few and far between.
Anker defended her choice on the Foley center stating that it was losing $10 million a year, so the county executive thought it best to sell it.
She spoke about her work as the chair of the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel including beginning to institute Narcan workshops in the fight against opioids.
“We are getting a lot done, we are cross communicating, networking, we are finding where the system is failing us,” she said.
The incumbent brought up education as a key component.
“We have to get to these kids when they are young, not to scare them, but to begin education in elementary and increase it into middle and high school,” she said.
Red-light camera program/road safety
Anker said the red-light cameras are meant to protect residents and get drivers to stop and prevent accidents.
She mentioned fatal accidents have decreased by 11 percent, but there was an increase in rear-end crashes that she considered unacceptable. She said she is frustrated with the program as it is not working as it should be.
“The report I had commissioned failed to look into distracted driving,” she said. “I need to know if it’s a red light or [someone] being distracted. I’ve heard from law enforcement that its mostly distracted driving.”
She also said there needs to be more educational driving programs for teens and adults.
Pollakusky said if elected he would terminate the red-light program.
“It has been a money grab for our county for some time, and they have just voted to extend this for another five years,” he said.
The challenger called out Anker for commissioning another report on the program that cost taxpayers $250,000.
He stated the report shows that accidents increased at intersections with red-light cameras and argued that yellow lights change quicker to red merely for profit.
Anker said she would focus on creating a type of smart growth development where housing is built in one area so work can be done on the surrounding infrastructure.
She likened it to the Ronkonkoma hub development. The incumbent also proposed creating an eco-tourism hub located on the north end of the William Floyd Parkway, which would support local businesses.
“Tourism dollars have brought in $4 billion to Long Island,” she said.
For housing, Anker would propose creating a millennial housing project similar to planned retirement communities that would be located near college campuses and transportation. She also mentioned the ongoing revitalization of downtown Rocky Point.
Pollakusky said he is less concerned with development, as they are seeing seniors and college graduates leave the area and more empty business fronts in the area.
“The problem is people are leaving because of taxes,” he said. “Expand the tax base, lower the residential tax burden by supporting businesses.”
The challenger said local businesses are important to the fabric of the community.
“We need to inspire commerce and economic development,” he said.
Red light cameras along Route 25A. File photo by Elana Glowatz
Since 2010, Suffolk County has been authorized by New York State to install red-light cameras at intersections. Today, 215 cameras operate at 100 intersections. The program is intended to reduce the number of cars running red traffic lights and by extension reduce the number of crashes and the severity of the crashes. The county has as its vendor for the red-light camera program Conduent, a divestiture from Xerox. Conduent receives from Suffolk County 42 percent of all fines as per contract terms, and its contract was set to expire December 2019. Graphic by TBR News Media
The next five years of red-light cameras’ survival in Suffolk County has finally been decided.
After lengthy debate and public comment period, Suffolk lawmakers voted along party lines to extend the program for another five years Sept. 4. The program was set to expire by the end of the year.
Legislators speak out on the red light camera program. Photo by David Luces
The issue of red-light cameras has been a divisive topic since its inception nearly a decade ago. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the program, have called it a ‘money grab’ for the county, which has generated $20 million in revenue annually. Democrats, on the other hand, supported the extension though acknowledged that it needs to be fixed.
Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who co-sponsored a bill for a report on the county’s red-light camera program, said she remained frustrated with its findings but ultimately supported the program. She also called for more education on distracted driving prevention.
“There needs to be improvements [to the program], the program right now is not acceptable,” she said.
Legislators proposed the idea of payment plans for fines, waiving administrative fees for first-time offenders and the implementation of an annual report on all camera locations.
Republicans said the program has negatively affected driver behavior, as many drivers stop short at red lights to avoid getting a ticket. The county has seen a marked increase in rear-end accidents in the last few years.
Paul Margiotta, executive director of the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, disagreed and pointed to the increased prevalence of distracted driving as the culprit. He said he believed the program has been working.
Republicans continue to disagree.
“It has become clear that the program isn’t working said Comptroller John Kennedy, who is running for county executive in the fall against Steve Bellone (D). “Suffolk’s residents realize it’s little more than a money grab,”
Supporters have said the program has saved lives by reducing red-light running and serious accidents on roadways.
“The minority caucus led by Rob Trotta and his band of conspiracy theorists were dealt a resounding defeat. This is a victory for common sense and effective public safety programs,” said Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesperson, in a statement.
Though before the vote, many of those who attended the Sept 4. meeting spoke negatively about the program.
“Red light cameras are disproportionately located in lower income neighborhoods.”
— Hector Gavilla
Hector Gavilla, a Huntington-based lawyer who is running for county legislature, said Suffolk is trying to come up with reasons to say the program works.
“Red light cameras are disproportionately located in lower income neighborhoods,” he said. “This red-light camera tax is placed on the most vulnerable people in our communities… we all agree that whoever intentionally tries to run a red-light should definitely get a ticket, however the vast majority of these tickets are on right turns on red.”
Previously, legislators proposed relocating red-light cameras to areas and intersections where the most serious accidents occur.
Other speakers said the program is failing in its original goal to improve public safety.
As one individual put it: “If it’s [red-light cameras] causing more accidents than it’s not safe,”
Another concerned county resident said it is a no-brainer to not extend the program.
“You can’t delay this to another five years, fix the flaws of this program, fix the quality of life in Suffolk County,” he said.
Legislators have already put in a request for proposal to find a new vendor for the program. They stressed the need for the new vendor to be either locally based or be required to have an office in the county. Also, Margiotta said county officials plan to look for a vendor that provides a payment plan.
1 of 11
Children use a tablet to steer a remote control gadget through a maze at Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Members of Stony Brook University's volleyball teams show children some moves at SBU's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
A woman tries out the pull-up bars at the Army ROTC booth at Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Members of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute were on hand to talk to attendees about their program at Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Members of Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps. were on hand at SBU's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
A child learns how to stop blood at Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Attendees had the opportunity to donate blood at Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Stony Brook University police officers greeted attendees at SBU's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Stony Brook University's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22 included a performance by Kazoo-niversity orchestra. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Stony Brook University's Wolfie stops for a healthy snack at SBU's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Children learn about the skeletal system at SBU's CommUniversity Day Sept. 22. Photo by Rita J. Egan
On Sept. 22, Stony Brook University hosted CommUniversity Day. The free event was open to the local community members, employees, friends and neighbors to experience what SBU is all about. Activities included an instrument petting zoo, drowsy and distracted driving simulators, teddy bear clinics, Tai Chi demonstrations, Kazoo-niversity orchestra, rubber duck race and more.
June 14, 2018
A free alcohol testing kit comes with one urination cup and test strip. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff's Office
A new Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department program is looking to keep kids safe this prom and graduation season, while creating a way for parents to more easily open a dialogue with kids about underage drinking and drugs.
“We just want everyone to be prepared,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “It’s a celebratory moment for people graduating high school and moving on, and they feel a little empowered.”
On May 22 the sheriff’s office announced it is passing out free alcohol and drug testing kits.
“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”
— Janene Gentile
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes. In Suffolk County, the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes are driving while ability impaired by alcohol or dugs and reckless or distracted driving.
The test kits include standard urine test that contains a single cup and stick that changes color depending on the presence of alcohol.
“We want parents to ask tough questions and [have] tough discussions early on so that they don’t get the knock on the door by a police officer telling them that their child is in the hospital or telling them that their child was driving while intoxicated,” Toulon said. “We would rather let them take care of their children so that law enforcement does not [have to] get involved.”
The North Shore Youth Council already offers these kits. Executive Director Janene Gentile said she doesn’t see the kits as a punitive measure, but as a way for parents to more easily talk about the topic with their children.
“Drinking is cultural in our society, but it’s an adult choice and not a young person’s choice,” she said.
“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”
Local schools have long tried to curb drug and alcohol use at prom while still trying to ensure graduating classes celebrate the final days before graduation.
Frank Pugliese said in his first year as principal of Shoreham-Wading River High School, he hopes his students can enjoy prom while staying safe.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”
— Errol Toulon Jr.
“We strongly advise all students to always make appropriate decisions,” Pugliese said in an email. “With that being said, we have great students. The vast majority make smart choices regardless of the policies in place, and we trust that they will continue to do so on prom night.”
Smithtown High School West participates in the county District Attorney’s Office new Choices and Consequences program that shows the dangers of reckless and drunk driving. Members of the DA’s office will be in the high school June 18.
In a letter to students, Smithtown West High School Principal John Coady said anyone caught drinking during prom will be suspended and kicked out. Prom tickets will not be refunded, and the student may be barred from the graduation ceremony.
Fifty alcohol and 25 drug testing kits were sent out to numerous schools to kick off the program. The kits are also available free at each Suffolk County legislator’s office and will remain offered through the North Shore Youth Council.
Each alcohol testing kit costs .74 cents while drug testing kits are $1.50. The $5,000 program is being paid for with asset forfeiture funds.
“I would like for all of them to enjoy the moment,” Toulon said of seniors attending prom and graduation. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”
December 29, 2017
Stony Brook University surgeon James Vosswinkel, above left, is recognized prior to the Dec. 5, 2016 New York Jets game at Metlife Stadium. Photo from Melissa Weir
When they come to him, they need something desperately. He empowers people, either to help themselves or others, in life and death situations or to prevent the kinds of traumatic injuries that would cause a crisis cascade.
Dr. James Vosswinkel, an assistant professor of surgery and the chief of trauma, emergency surgery and surgical critical care, as well as the medical director of the Stony Brook Trauma Center, is driven to help people through, or around, life-threatening injuries.
Vosswinkel speaks to people in traffic court about the dangers of distracted driving and speeding, encourages efforts to help seniors avoid dangerous falls and teaches people how to control the bleeding during significant injuries, which occur during mass casualty crisis.
For his tireless efforts on behalf of the community, Vosswinkel is a Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.
Vosswinkel teaching bleeding control in April at MacArthur Airport Law Enforcement Division for the Town of Islip. Photo from Stony Brook University
Vosswinkel is the “quarterback for developing all the resources and making sure the quality of those individuals is up to very, very high standards,” said Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. “He’s a very fine trauma surgeon, who has assembled a team of additional fine surgeons. If he’s ever needed, he’s always available, whether he’s on call or not.”
Vosswinkel has earned recognition from several groups over the last few years. He was named the Physician for Excellence in 2016 by the EMS community.
In 2016, Lillian Schneider was involved in a traumatic car accident for which she needed to be airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital. Despite the severe nature of her injuries, Schneider gradually recovered.
In September Vosswinkel was honored as the first Lillian and Leonard Schneider Endowed Professor in Trauma Surgery at Stony Brook University.
“What’s different about Vosswinkel,” or “Voss” as Jane McCormack, a resident nurse and the trauma program manager at Stony Brook calls him, is that “a lot of people talk about working harder, but he does it. He’s an intense guy who is very passionate about what he does.”
Dr. Mark Talamini, the chair of the Department of Surgery and the chief of Surgical Services at Stony Brook Hospital who is also Vosswinkel’s supervisor, said Vosswinkel will come to the hospital to help a member of his team at any hour of the night.
“When his people need help, he’s there,” Talamini said.
Vosswinkel was recently promoted to chief consulting police surgeon by the Suffolk County Police Department.
Dr. Scott Coyne, the chief surgeon for the Suffolk County Police Department said he’s come to rely on Vosswinkel repeatedly over the years.
Coyne said Vosswinkel is frequently on the scene at the hospital, where he shares critical information about police officers and their families with Coyne.
“He’s a very valuable adjunct to our police department,” Coyne said. “If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”
“If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”
— Dr. Scott Coyne
The trauma surgeon is also involved in helping train members of the community with a system called B-Con, for bleeding control.
Amid the alarming increase in mass casualty events that have occurred throughout the country, the first provider of care is often a civilian.
“Even before the EMS gets there, civilians can take action,” McCormack said. Vosswinkel has been directly involved in helping civilians to recognize life-threatening hemorrhaging, how to place a tourniquet and how to pack wounds.
“He’s been the energizer bunny for that [effort] all throughout Suffolk County and on Long Island,” Talamini said. “It’s been an incredible effort.”
Talamini said he is impressed by the work Vosswinkel has also done at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center to help prepare for its Level 3 certification.
“He has begun doing his magic at another significant Suffolk County hospital,” Talamini said. Talamini called his work on blood control at Brookhaven “superhuman.”
Talamini said he is impressed with his colleague’s ability to connect with people from various walks of life, which is an asset to the trauma surgeon.
“He’s that kind of person, which is why he’s been so successful with all these outreach events,” Talamini said. “His patients adore him.”
Working with the Setauket Fire Department, Stony Brook’s Trauma Center offers tai chi for arthritis and fall prevention, which uses the movements of tai chi to help seniors improve their balance and increase their confidence in performing everyday acts.
Discussions about Vosswinkel often include references to a conspicuous passion: the New York Jets.
Kaushansky called Vosswinkel the most die-hard Jets fan he has ever seen. His office is decorated with Jets paraphernalia, leaving it resembling a green shrine.
In December 2016, the Jets honored Vosswinkel for his lifesaving care of two Suffolk County police officers. He participated in the coin toss to kick off a Monday Night Football game.
Vosswinkel credited the trauma group for the favorable outcomes for the two officers.
“This is not about me,” he said at the time. “This is about Stony Brook. It is a true team that truly cares about patients.”
To be sure, the successful and effective doctor does have his challenging moments.
“He gets tired and cranky once in a while, like everyone else does,” McCormack said. “Most people in this building would be, like, ‘I want to be on his team. I know we’ll probably win with him.’”
A win for Vosswinkel and the Stony Brook trauma team is a win for the patient and for the community, which benefits from some of the best trauma care in the country, Talamini said.
“There’s nobody that’s more deserving and done so much and continues to do so much for the people of Suffolk County than Dr. Vosswinkel,” Coyne said
January 13, 2017
Police Comissioner Tim Sini speaks at a press conference about the department’s success in 2016. Photo by Kevin Redding
“We are now safer than we have ever been before in Suffolk County and that’s because of the hard work of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced recently.
Sini reported on the final 2016 crime statistics at SCPD Headquarters Jan. 6, which showed the county ended the year with the lowest levels of crime ever recorded in the history of the department — with the exception of homicides.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined the commissioner in presenting the historic crime drop.
“Public safety is my top priority,” Bellone said. “I know I speak for everyone in Suffolk County when I say we are proud of the police, proud of the work they do every day for us, proud of the courage and bravery they demonstrate and proud that they’ve clearly made the county one of the safest places to live anywhere in our country. These statistics speak very clearly about the work they’ve been doing.”
Image by Victoria Espinoza.
According to Sini, who just wrapped up his first year as the youngest SCPD commissioner ever appointed, compared to crime stats in 2015, violent crime (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) decreased by 10.9 percent and property crime went down 5.2 percent, with an overall 5.7 percent reduction of total crime.
“We see the crime going down and enforcement going up and that’s, obviously, not an accident,” Sini said. “We are a problem-solving police department. When [we] came into office here, my leadership team and I made it clear we’re going to be focused on opiate addiction, firearms and gang violence, as well as traffic fatalities.”
Under Sini’s leadership, the SCPD launched several initiatives and utilized 21st century policing methodologies that gave way to precision policing, intelligence-led policing and community-based policing.
In tackling the opiate epidemic sweeping Suffolk the last few years, Sini re-engaged a partnership with federal law enforcement officers, including five detectives, to target high-level drug dealers active in the communities.
He also loaded up on staff in the department’s narcotics section to roll out a hotline (631-852-NARC) where residents can anonymously report drug dealings going in areas where they live and even get cash rewards for any tips that lead to arrests. So far, since launching the hotline, the department has received more than 1,300 tips from anonymous civilians.
In a previous interview with TBR News Media, Sini said the hotline has led to a 140 percent increase in the amount of search warrants issued by August; 400 drug dealers have been arrested; the police department has seized more than $1 million in drug money; and is on pace to confiscate more illegal firearms than ever before.
Additionally, SCPD has saved approximately 779 individuals using Narcan, the anti-opiate overdose antidote.
Narcotics search warrants alone have increased by 118.2 percent — 192 in 2016 compared to 88 in 2015.
Sini said there’s been an initiative in partnership with the Highway Patrol Unit to help reduce distracted driving, aggressive driving and speeding, educate the public about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving and reach out to municipalities in relation to improving conditions on the road.
This has also proved effective.
Image by Victoria Espinoza.
Suffolk has seen a decrease in motor vehicle crashes by 2.5 percent, motor vehicle crashes resulting in fatalities by 29.9 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 29.4 percent.
SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the reality of Suffolk today in regards to safety has long been dreamed about.
“Throughout my 33 years with SCPD, I’ve heard people wistfully referring to the olden days of yore where you could leave your doors unlocked and things were much safer … as statistics bear out, we’re living in those times right now,” the chief said. “Not that I’m encouraging anybody to leave their doors unlocked, but crime stats have truly never been better. And without the public, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these results.”
While homicides have risen, with 34 recorded in 2016 compared to 25 in 2015, Sini said that number can be largely attributed to heavy MS13 gang activity in areas like Brentwood, for which aggressive strategies have been enforced by Sini to “decimate MS13 and these other gangs.”
“We collect intelligence of known gang members in the county, assign gang officers and gang enforcers to particular [communities], and we’ve seen a dramatic decline in crime and gang violence since the initiative,” he said.
Through Sini’s creation of what he calls the Firearms Suppression Team — a mix of officers and detectives who have worked to prevent gun-related violence — SCPD has had a 50.9 percent increase in illegal firearms seizures, 507 recovered in 2016 compared to 336 in 2015, as well as a 4.4 percent decrease in shooting incident and trigger pulls.
By taking away a criminal’s tool of the trade — firearms — the commissioner said “you can make a significant dent in violent crime.”
Despite the uptick in homicides, he said preventing them is a top priority.
“If you look at all the hamlets and overall crime reduction, we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished but we’re not complacent,” Sini said. “One homicide is one too many and we’re going to keep doing what we have to do to ensure the safety of Suffolk County residents.”