The newly inaugurated sheriff of Suffolk County, Errol Toulon, Jr., discussed his policies and positions with Stony Brook students on Monday night at an event hosted by the College Democrats.
Toulon decided to enter the election only three days after undergoing hernia surgery. He went on to win the race over Republican opponent and assistant police chief at Stony Brook University, Lawrence Zacarese, making him the first African-American in Long Island history to be elected to a non-judicial countywide position.
Although he opposed Zacarese in the election, Toulon said this would have no effect on his future relations with the Stony Brook University Police Department.
“He’s a professional and I’m a professional, so if ever our worlds met and we needed to work collaboratively together,” Toulon said. “I’m more than happy to work with anyone.”
After a brief introduction from Toulon, students were able to ask questions about a variety of topics, including the general treatment of prisoners and their rehabilitation after release, active shooter preparedness and racism in policing.
One of the points of interest was whether or not Suffolk County police would work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport illegal immigrants in the county.
“Regardless of whether they were those that were here legally or illegally, [immigrants arrested for crimes] shouldn’t be out on the streets,” Toulon said.“When I started looking at the charges the first time they gave me the statistics, there were 140 individuals: attempted rape, burglary, robbery, assault. And I thought to myself, there’s no way that these individuals can go back into society.
Toulon said that he has no qualms advocating for anyone for fairness, but based on the crimes of the inmates presented by his staff, he could not in good conscience release them.
He also said that two-thirds of the people who are turned over to ICE are actually released back into society.
“One third actually go through the deportation hearing process,” Toulon said. “People look at what is actually going on, it’s not the way it appears.”
Toulon also criticized the negative attention President Trump has brought to immigration law enforcement.
“There were more people deported under President Obama than under President Trump,” Toulon said. “But unfortunately, this president decides to post a tweet about it. He wants to create fear amongst various communities. He wants to terrorize people. And when he tweets, and he insinuates, and he infuriates all of us, because we feel there’s an injustice being done, it’s really unfair to the men and women who are actually trying to do their job.”
Toulon pointed out various initiatives he plans to implement, including upping the fight against opioid abuse and cracking down on gangs.
He also announced plans to embark on a listening tour of Long Island schools. The tour will officially start next week in Rocky Point Free School District, but Toulon has already visited seven schools at the district’s request. He spoke about vaping, gangs, opioid addictions and bullying.
“My goal for getting to those kids is to get to them before they get to me,” he said.
One of Toulon’s main goals is to create a stronger reentry program for prisoners reaching the end of their sentences.
“They need to know where their resources are, so that when they turn back to society, they know where they can go,” he said. “I’m working on a phone line in my office so they can communicate with us to let us know if they’re having some difficulty, where they can go.”
Toulon’s visit was a follow-up to an event hosted by the College Democrats last semester, a Meet the Candidates session where the club encouraged people to vote.
“We were happy to see him get elected, so we wanted to have him come back to celebrate that, and also to just really have the opportunity to have him come talk to us as students,” Sayidana Brannan-Douglas, treasurer of the College Democrats and junior technological systems management major, said.
Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, Troy Singletary, said he was glad he got the opportunity to learn more about the new sheriff’s policies.
“I didn’t know what the type of things that the sheriff’s department works on behind the scenes and it’s enlightening to get that take on what they do,” he said, adding that he was particularly interested in the conversation on ICE.
“I would hope that this meeting incites the Stony Brook community to learn more about their laws and legislation and how the penal system works,” K’La Rivers, president of Stony Brook’s chapter of the NAACP and junior sociology major, said. “I feel like there’s just a lot of ignorance towards it, and because we believe we’ll never end up in that situation, we don’t educate ourselves on it.”