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'Massive Changes' Aren't Coming To Suffolk Policing, Says County Legis. Rob Trotta

Suffolk County police
Elvert Barnes

Both Suffolk and Nassau counties are going through a process of reforming and reinventing policing. This review was mandated by the state after a summer of protests and calls for reform. 

Both counties have formed task forces to draft a plan that will eventually layout possible reforms.

Charles Lane, WSHU: One person not on that task force but who has a unique observation point is Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta from Smithtown, who was also a police detective in Suffolk for many years. Welcome, Legislator.

Rob Trotta: Thanks for having me.

CL: Now, at least with Suffolk's police reform task force, there appears to be a lot of hostility and contention. And most of that appears to revolve around the influence that the police unions have over possible reforms. Why is that? Do you think?

RT: Cash. Money. The root of all evil, you know. You have to understand something the district attorney took over $500,000 in campaign finance, the county executive well over a million probably close to $2 million in campaign finance money. 16 of the 18 legislators only myself and Legislator Anthony Piccirillo refuse to take money from any union is doing business with the county. And they're all influenced also.

So, you know, having said that, you know, while there are some minor problems in the police department, maybe some major ones, but that does have to do with the rank and file cops, not the cops on the street, not the cops handling calls. It's one of the safest places to live in the country, even in the minority communities.

CL: But just a technical correction, election law actually prevents County Executive Steve Bellone and District Attorney Tim Sini from taking this money. But what you're saying is that third party outside funding, of which they have no control might nonetheless influence them.

But let's talk about the the county legislature right now. What what kind of reforms would the legislature approve, given this type of political influence? One example that we hear is the pre-text stop, where a driver is pulled over for for one reason, and then investigated for another reason? Do you think the legislature would approve limiting something like that?

RT: No, I don't think I wouldn't fall for that. Okay. That's the basis of crime fighting. You know, if you see a guy and you think, oh, boy, his back taillights out, let's pull him over and talk to him. Let's see if any proceeds of a crime. That's just police work 101.

CL: What about the other reform that that some of the reformers have talked about a lot is diverting funding away from traditional placing of what we know is traditional policing and towards social services. Do you think the full legislative, Suffolk County Legislature would consider something like that?

RT: Well, see... That's the question is like, so bizarre because like, you can't answer it, because you know, most of the costs, payroll costs. Now, you don't know what you're sending these people into. The guy might be something that might be some situation where, you know, boom, you need a cop there.

CL: So I don't, I don't hear any any changes to policing. And so I'm trying to detect the influence that you say that the policing...

RT: .. the influence I'm talking about with the police unions is financial. They are getting themselves contracts we can't afford to pay. Now, you know, is there going to be massive changes? I don't see it. I don't think you're going to have you know, take a social worker with you to a domestic dispute. We're going to drive around with them. You're not going to increase the cost, you have to pay the cop, you have to pay the social worker. I don't see that happening.

Pre-text stops, you know, they might limit some, some form of some something. Yeah, I don't know. They might be some cursory thing where, you know, maybe I don't, I really can't at this time, think of what you how you would do that. You know, try to make a community better. without, you know, maybe they'll pull back on what little like heavy handed policing. But yeah, I think you'll see an uptick in crime.

Rob Trotta is the Suffolk County Legislator in Smithown.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.