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Suffolk police commissioner Timothy Sini reflects on first year

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Police First commissioner Year reflects

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At 36, Timothy Sini is the youngest commissioner in the Suffolk County Police Department’s history — an appointment that some viewed with skepticism.

But the former federal prosecutor, now finishing his first official year as commissioner, also is a fresh face for a department still trying to improve its tarnished image after the guilty plea and imprisonment of its former top uniformed cop, James Burke.

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The department faces other challenges, too: Despite a historic drop in crime last year, Sini’s first year saw a 36 percent spike in homicides — largely driven by a rash of gang-related killings in Brentwood. And he inherits the still-unsolved Gilgo Beach murder investigation.

He’s never been a cop, but even longtime officers in the 2,499-member department — one of the largest in the nation — are praising Sini for his initiatives and his willingness to listen and learn.

John Meehan, a since-retired Suffolk chief who worked under several Suffolk police commissioners, including Sini, during his 43-year career, was impressed by Sini’s willingness to immerse himself in police action.

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Suffolk police commissioner Timothy Sini reflects on first year

Meehan tells a story about Sini once excusing himself from a kids’ backyard birthday party for his son’s friend to join officers in search of a suspect accused of indecent exposure.

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It was hardly a crime that would warrant the police commissioner’s presence, but Sini — who had been in the job for just a few months — saw an opportunity to learn firsthand about a facet of police work outside of his dizzying days of meetings on updating department technology, negotiating with unions and poring over crime statistics.

Sini, Meehan said, tramped through thick woods, his shoes muddy, peppering a veteran K-9 officer with questions about his dog’s scent-tracking methods for over an hour and calming residents concerned about the throngs of cops in their neighborhood.

They didn’t catch the suspect, but Sini made an impression to some on the force in that moment of impromptu patrol.

“He wanted to know everything about police work, and he wasn’t bashful about jumping right in there — ‘What do you know?’ ” Meehan said.

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Suffolk police commissioner Timothy Sini reflects on first year

“He was nonstop, like a machine,” he continued. “And when you see that, whatever skepticism that people that didn’t know him had — and that’s only natural for there to be some skepticism — I think in an amazingly short period of time, he won them over because he’s so sincere.”

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Sini — who reflected on his first year as commissioner in a recent interview — took the helm of Suffolk’s police department from its previous commissioner, longtime cop Edward Webber, as the department still lingered under the shadow of the arrest of Burke, its former chief.

Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and violating the civil rights of Christopher Loeb, whom he beat up in a precinct squad room, then masterminded a cover-up of the assault.

Against that backdrop, restoring the sense of steady and ethical leadership at the top of the organization was a priority for Sini, and was at the heart of one of his first tasks as commissioner: interviewing dozens of the department’s brass.

“We reassured people that we’re just going to make decisions that are good for the department,” Sini said. “I think the vast, vast majority of people said, ‘Ah, thank God. There’s someone who just wants to manage the department effectively. There isn’t a hidden agenda there. He’s not looking to chop people’s heads off.’ ”

That message isn’t just within the department. Since first tapped for the job in November 2015, Sini has attended scores of community meetings to hear concerns from residents, and has held news conferences at a clip far in excess of any other Suffolk top cop.

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He started a series of new initiatives in his first year, from creating a team of officers to take illegal guns off the streets, resulting in a record 507 seizures in 2016, to starting a narcotics tip line to allow residents to alert police to drug activity in their neighborhoods — the types of strategies that seemed to fall by the wayside in the Burke era.

Sini also made reforms to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, giving it a stronger oversight structure, adding staff and ensuring cases are closed within six months.

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