Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini keeps a 1789 letter penned by George Washington in his office at police headquarters in Yaphank. In it, Washington, a reluctant politician, describes the feelings of his upcoming appointment as President of the United States as “not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” The outcome of Washington’s two presidential terms were an unmitigated success, but for the young soldier thrust into a leadership role in the midst of a war, he was understandably trepidatious.

Sini could relate.

For the youngest police commissioner in the history of Suffolk County—and perhaps the country–Tim Sini was called upon by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to right the ship of the Suffolk County Police Department in the aftermath of a massive scandal. He found the request “wacky,” as he’d never been a police officer, but immediately accepted what he believed to be both an honor and an obligation to serve.

“My reaction wasn’t, ‘This is awesome! I’m going to be police commissioner!’” Sini told On Patrol. “My reaction was, ‘Okay. I’ve got to put my big boy pants on and get to work.’”

With morale at an all-time low and the integrity of the Suffolk County Police Department irrevocably compromised after the arrest and conviction of former police chief James Burke in a criminal and ethical scandal that made national headlines, Sini didn’t quite know what to expect. A former federal prosecutor in the Southern district of New York under his mentor United States Attorney Preet Bharara, Sini was intimately familiar with law enforcement. In that office, Sini specialized in prosecuting violent crime, with an emphasis on building complex RICO indictments to put away gang members–experience that would come full circle as he became embroiled in a battle between Suffolk County’s finest against the increasingly violent and brazen threat of Central American gang MS-13.

He credits Bharara with instilling in him the philosophy that governed not only what being a prosecutor is about, but all aspects of law enforcement. “It’s about administering justice,” Sini says. “It’s not necessarily about how many indictments you file or how many cases you win, it’s about bringing justice to victims, it’s about making our communities safer, and it’s about doing the right thing in each and every case.”

Although Sini loved the work he was doing as a federal prosecutor, the daily commute into the city from Babylon Village where he lives eventually began to take its toll on Sini. He made inquiries into working for the Eastern District of the US Attorney’s office, located out in Central Islip. However, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone offered Sini the position as the Deputy County Executive for Public Safety. This policy position within Bellone’s administration provided Sini an opportunity to work in his own backyard on issues that were important to him, including the opioid crisis, gang violence, and other issues affecting Suffolk County, where he and his wife are raising their three young daughters.

About a year and a half into that position, the scandal hit the Suffolk County police department involving the former chief of department James Burke and Suffolk County Executive Bellone requested that Sini come over to the police department to “put the right people in the right place for the right reasons,” Sini says.

tim_sini25-1

He began by making some immediate personnel decisions, including installing Stu Cameron as department chief and bringing in John Barry as first deputy police commissioner, a former colleague from Sini’s days as a federal prosecutor. Barry was a well-known attorney with a high profile track record that included the successful prosecution of New York government officials Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver, as well as several drug cartels. Then Sini sat with every department officer with a rank of lieutenant or higher and, pulling their personnel files, internal affairs records, and their resumes, he interviewed hundreds of officers, not only to determine whether they were suited for the jobs they filled, but whether the department itself was serving them.

“We picked their brains,” Sini explains. “And we got the privilege of hearing from hundreds of individuals in this department who were dedicated to this department and to Suffolk County on how to make it better.”

Sini got to work using his history of work at the federal level to restore collaborative relationships with the FBI and ATF that had been destroyed in previous administrations. He instituted a revamped and robust Internal Affairs department with sophisticated technology that made processes more streamlined. A numbers guy, Sini geeks out over percentages. He begins every meeting with his command team with “How are we doing?” In the beginning of his tenure, he’d be met with shrugs and generalizations. “Pretty good,” his top brass would respond. But unlike Ed Koch’s famous refrain, Sini isn’t looking for a thumbs up. And now his officers know better. Now they bring the numbers. Sini is interested in results he could measure. He wants to see his efforts rewarded with hard, indisputable data. What are the reductions in violent crime year to date? How do they compare to last year? Historically?

It turns out, pretty good. Some of the statistics Sini rattles off of his head tell a story of a county with an historic reduction of crime. For one of the largest suburban counties in the country, this is no small feat. And for a county still reeling from a scandal that revealed massive abuse of power, earning the trust of the public became an ongoing challenge that Sini meets with a clear head, open ears, and strategies designed to produce measured results. His priorities are focused primarily on the opioid epidemic, firearm and gang violence, traffic safety, and homeland security.

“In 2016, we reduced crime to historic levels,” Sini says, clearly excited to relay the data.

“We reduced violent crime by 10.9 percent, property crime by 5.3 percent, overall crime by 5.7 percent. In 2017, we’re reducing it even further. It’s not only are we reducing crime to historic lows, literally Suffolk County hasn’t been this safe since we started collecting reliable crime statistics in 1975.”

He continues to rattle off numbers: Halfway into the year, crime has decreased by another 13 percent, property crime by approximately 11 percent, and overall crime by approximately 11 percent. Thus far, traffic fatalities in 2016 have been reduced, by 29.9 percent, compared to 2015. In 2017, fatalities are down another 13.6 percent. “Those are crashes,” Sini says. “Individual people who have been killed is down by 16.7 percent, so we’re doing a tremendous job. Motor vehicle crashes overall in 2017 are down 14.8 percent.”

image

The department tackles traffic safety with a three-pronged approach that includes an increase in summonses for speeding, distracted driving, and DWIs, educating the public, and engineering, which includes reaching out to local municipalities to fix any issues that may have contributed to a traffic fatality or serious injury. And while the increase in traffic tickets may not make him popular, he is staunchly unapologetic. “Our officers are out there in full force, doing enforcement,” he tells On Patrol. “We’re trying to keep people safe.”

Keeping the residents in Suffolk County safe is something Sini takes very personally. And when those lives are lost, Sini shoulders the profound weight of responsibility for each one. Homicides, he said, break his heart and keep him up long into the night.

“I recognize that you’re not going to prevent all the violent crime,” he says. “but when you find out that Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevos were murdered… When I got the news of the quadruple homicide in Central Islip, those were some of my darkest days. It’s something I take very personal and so does my command staff.”

The MS-13 murders of two teenage girls in Brentwood made national headlines, calling attention to the violent gang’s stronghold in some Long Island communities. Sini has since vowed to “eradicate MS-13.” He cites intelligence-gathering to identify and target specific gang members and aggressive patrolling as key to fighting the gang, whom his officers are picking off one by one. Sini says it’s an “all hands on deck” approach, utilizing enhanced patrols in areas that are affected by gang violence, sector cars, CSU, gang officers and Brentwood Initiative police officers, highway patrol bureau, K9, emergency services, aviation to increase their presence. “We are constantly in their face,” he says. Prevention, Sini says, is also an integral part of their strategy.

“Law  enforcement can do a  great  job of weeding out dangerous gang members from our streets,” he says.      

“But we also need to make sure the most vulnerable in our community are not being recruited by MS-13 because if for every person we arrest, they recruit ten, we’re not going to win this battle. And we will win this battle that’s why we need to make sure we have an all-encompassing approach. We need to make sure the most vulnerable of our society have the support and services they need so that they are not recruited. If we don’t provide that support and structure, MS-13 will.”

image (1)

While Sini is the most visible member of the Suffolk County PD as commissioner, he is quick to distribute credit, particularly to police officers in the line of duty who “risk their lives every day to keep Suffolk County safe.” In fact, the higher a position of power one attains, the more humble he should be, he says. He believes his job is to provide strategies, direction, resources and support–essentially empowering officers and detectives to do their jobs effectively. (And when they do, many will tell stories of getting personal congratulatory phone calls from the commissioner.)

While coming into his role as the youngest police commissioner in the history of Suffolk County in the wake of major scandal might not have been quite as dramatic as George Washington’s walking “to the place of his execution,” Sini admittedly had his work cut out for him. But is his tenure successful thus far?

The numbers don’t lie.