Suffolk County Sheriff's Office Unveils Reform Pllan

By Michael O'Keeffe and Rachelle Blidner

The Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Office will create a review board to evaluate use of force and update technology to collect racial data from traffic stops and arrests to eliminate potential bias, according to a 78-page reform plan released Tuesday.

The agency, which operates Suffolk County jails and provides police services in parts of Long Island’s East End, will also offer greater support to the needy and the mentally ill, provide training to staff on the impacts of trauma and deliver increased mental health services to its officers, according to the report.

Sheriff Errol Toulon’s office released the report to comply with an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis in May.

Cuomo ordered every law-enforcement agency in the state to modernize practices or risk the loss of state funds. County or town lawmakers must approve the plans, which have to be submitted to the governor’s office by April 1.

"The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office is, and will continue to be, an agency driven to achieve excellence not by legislative mandate, but instead by its own standards and its obligation to the people of Suffolk County," Toulon said.

"We are currently reviewing the plan put forth by the Sheriff’s office," said Derek Poppe, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who noted the sheriff is an independent office.

Suffolk Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said he was not sure when lawmakers -- who will also have to approve a plan from Suffolk police, which has not yet been released -- would vote on the sheriff’s proposal.

Civil rights activist Jackie Duodu-Burbridge of Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety called the proposal one of the better reform plans she’s seen. "We’re trying to save lives," she said. "The fact he (Toulon) understands it’s about people is promising."

Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women & Children, an agency that provides social services in the Suffolk jails, said she was encouraged to see that the proposal utilizes recommendations made by a coalition of community leaders and activists.

"I’m incredibly hopeful that what they like to implement here happens," said Liguori, who also helped organized protests calling for police reform last year. "I think this is certainly a solid step in the right direction."

Proposals from the wide-ranging report include:

-- Creation of a review board to evaluate use of force reports to ensure that procedures were followed and to recommend new guidelines when necessary.

-- Updating technology to ensure racial and ethnic data is collected from traffic stops and arrests. The sheriff’s office plans to analyze that data to help eliminate bias by deputies. The data will be posted on the agency’s website.

-- Explore programs to track performance and complaints that occur during the course of an officer’s career.

-- Connect inmates suffering from mental illness with social services and develop protocols for encounters with people with developmental disabilities, autism and other conditions.

-- Training to increase understanding of the impact of trauma.

-- Take steps to detect and treat officers struggling with mental health issues.

-- Review of policies regarding the classification of transgender inmates and the crafting of a directive on transgender and non-binary people in custody.

-- Implement de-escalation training that will help officers cool down conflicts they encounter.

-- Develop policies to promote diversity within the department.