Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini touched on the opiate epidemic, fatal traffic accidents, illegal guns, ATVs on our roadways and other issues Monday night at a community forum.
Sini, who grew up in West Islip, met with South Country area residents for about 90 minutes at the Hagerman firehouse in East Patchogue.
Sini also fielded questions from the floor. Below are the highlights.
• The opiate epidemic “is still here with a vengeance,” Sini said, noting 2016 will be a record year for fatal overdoses in Suffolk County.
“We have had over 200 fatal overdoses in 2016,” he said.
He said Suffolk County “cannot arrest its way out” of the epidemic, adding the focus must be on prevention, treatment and recovery, while utilizing data-driven programs that combine counseling with chemical treatment
He cited the drug Vivitrol, an opiate antagonist that inhibits a user’s ability to get high.
“They can still overdose; but they can’t get high,” he said.
• “Year to date our search warrants are up about 170 percent compared to last year, so we’re doing much more enforcement this year. We’ve arrested hundreds of people …”
The uptick, he said, is due to participation in the county’s new hotline 631-852-NARC.
Residents are encouraged to call the hotline to report suspected drug activity at homes in their neighborhoods. The callers remain anonymous and receive cash reward for tips leading to arrests.
“We rolled that out on March 21 and we’ve received over 1,000 tips.”
• Over public information concerns, Sini said each of the precincts have Twitter feeds and are working at getting more timely information out, such as why a SCPD helicopter might be up in the air.
• The county has created firearms suppression team, or FAST, consisting of two teams consisting of 17 officers, two sergeants and a lieutenant each, with patrol and investigative functions.
The teams aims to prevent gun violence and solve open cases, while coordinating with ATF.
“We’re on record to size more guns from the streets of Suffolk County than ever before,” the commissioner said. “But it’s a double-edged sword though, right? Because if we’re seizing a record number of guns, that means there’s a lot on the streets. So it’s of concern to us.”
“Approximately 30 percent of our search warrants are yielding illegal weapons. There’s a lot of guns on the streets. This is not something that’s unique to Suffolk County, it’s throughout the country.”
He encouraged residents to call the NARC hotline or the general tips hotline at 800-220-TIPS.
• “In Suffolk County you’re more likely to be killed in a car crash than any other way,” Sini said.
Education, enforcement and engineering (with respect to road improvements) is the three-pronged approach to traffic safety.
As for enforcement, “we are writing more tickets than ever before but we’re not doing it in random fashion. We are doing it at locations, at times, and directed at certain behaviors that cause crashes.”
He said summons are up and crashes are down in 2016 over previous years; fatalities are also down.
• The department is working to diversify the police department to better reflect the communities it serves, however the department still has less than 5 percent African-American officers.
The department has been making progress in hiring Spanish-speaking officers.
• The department is utilizing a program to streamline non-emergency calls through 911 to reduce patrol responses. Say, for instance, a mailbox was vandalized and a person needs a police report for insurance purposes.
“You can call 911 and the operator is trained to tell you you may quality for this program; do you want to get a police report over the phone instead of waiting for a police officer?”
• “I’ve advocated and received a commitment from the county to hire the second-largest police class in Suffolk County’s history,” Sini said. “This fall we’re going to be putting 175 new recruits into the academy.”
• As for treatment with opiate addiction, Sini said a treatment facility is being planned for Huntington, so families don’t have to send loved ones to place like Florida, as they often have to.
He also said the department is doing a better job at getting overdose victims directly into treatment, specifically by visiting hospitals where family members are often present and can help.
• Several residents expressed concerns with ATV riders in neighborhoods, and whether or not officers are taking such quality of life issues seriously — or if they even pursue people using dirt bikes illegally on public streets.
Sini said the department “needs more tools in our toolbox,” such as the ability to seize ATVs.
“Seizing ATVs is a huge deterrent,” he said. “Right now there has to be a misdemeanor, so we’re looking to change the law. If we seize a few ATVs, then people will think twice.”