Suffolk County DA talks plans to combat corruption
Photo courtesy of Timothy Sini’s Campaign
The District Attorney (DA) of Suffolk County, Timothy Sini (D), spoke at Hofstra on corruption within county law enforcement, his plan to fight the opioid epidemic on Long Island and more.
As part of Hofstra’s State and Local Politics Lecture Series presented by the Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs, Sini was invited to come speak at the Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater in the Axinn Library on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
The DA elaborated on his approach to drug policy and battling the opioid epidemic, which killed more than 600 people on Long Island in 2017 alone according to Newsday. “On the drug front our philosophy is pretty simple, we believe addiction is a disease. It’s a substance abuse disorder,” Sini said.
He made it clear that he is of the belief that people addicted to drugs should “have an opportunity to accept treatment” rather than face incarceration. Ramping up the so-called “war on drugs” any further would be, according to Sini, “a fool’s errand.”
A Long Island native raised in West Islip, Sini served as the Police Commissioner of Suffolk County before beginning his time as district attorney. According to Sini’s campaign website, while working with the Suffolk County Police Department, Sini increased the number of arrests of drug dealers causing opioid overdoses.
“The most important thing I think that he spoke of were the issues around drugs and how an addict doesn’t exactly have a choice,” said Danielle Verola, a freshman psychology major. “Addiction is a disease not a choice ... by talking about it we lift the stigma of the fact that addicts don’t have a choice.”
In 2015, Sini, then an aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), fought against a New York State-imposed mandate upon Suffolk County to erect a third jail in the town of Yaphank. He and Bellone pressured the state to pursue an alternative option – something related to drug treatment, rather than further incarceration for drug-related crimes. Ultimately, state of New York rescinded the mandate and Sini’s approach was taken instead.
“To this day, we have focused on keeping our jail population at a responsible number. We’re not looking to grow our jail population; we’re looking to come up with smart criminal justice solutions to make our community safer,” Sini said.
Corruption within Suffolk County law enforcement has been a defining issue for Sini during his time in office. Elected with 62 percent of the vote in November of 2017, Sini was set to enter the district attorney’s office still reeling from a massive corruption scandal.
His predecessor, Thomas J. Spota, drew national media attention when he was accused of covering up the assault of a prisoner by James Burke. At the time, Burke was serving as the Chief of the Suffolk County Police Department. (Burke is currently serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison, while Spota, charged with counts of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and other crimes, is set to face a federal trial in March of 2019).
“We did not just have a crisis of leadership in the Suffolk County Police Department. We had one in the district attorney’s office,” Sini said. “There was a lack of courage in Suffolk County to address the corruption in our criminal justice system.”
Following the Spota-Burke scandal, Sini stressed that he is determined to foster a new culture, one rooted in an attempt to “ensure fidelity in the administration of justice” within Suffolk County law enforcement. The “next frontier,” he said, for not only the DA’s office but law enforcement in Suffolk County as a whole, is to pursue a commitment to public integrity.
Since taking office in January, Sini has made over 210 personnel decisions in an effort to change the face of the office.
Amy Trotta, event coordinator at the cultural center, stressed the importance of events like this.
“Hofstra is emphasizing this semester, the importance of getting out the vote with the Hofstra Votes campaign,” Trotta said. Sini’s visit to Hofstra was just one of the many upcoming events sponsored by the Hofstra Votes campaign with the goal of promoting political awareness and involvement on campus.
Freshman political science major Justin Farima, said he particularly appreciated Sini’s comments on reforming the criminal justice system in Suffolk County. “I liked the way he actually answered people’s questions and his summarization of complex ideas,” said Mitchel Ibarra, a freshman political science major.
“There are so many things in our society that are corrupt and wrong,” Verola said. “It gives me hope that there will be some good people that will change it and make our society a better place one change at a time.”