Tierney On Shot Spotters, Legal Pot, Stolen Cars And Identity Theft, Suffolk County DA-Elect Weighs In

Suffolk County's new district attorney, Ray Tierney

Ray Tierney believes that at each stop along his career path, he’s learned and added to his expertise and breadth of professional connections.

And for the Suffolk County District Attorney-elect, those stops have been anything but brief lay-overs. He worked as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County for over 14 years, then for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District for 11 years, and most recently as executive in charge of the Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau, Crime Strategies Unit, and Body Worn Camera Unit with the Kings County District Attorney in Brooklyn.

“When you work, you slowly accumulate knowledge,” he said this week. Going back to his roots in the D.A.’s office with the Brooklyn post, he thought, “Not only have I learned a lot, but I’ve established so many great relationships in law enforcement all over.”

Tierney found collaborating with and mentoring young assistants rewarding. “I realized now I’m at the stage of my career where I have to leave the courtroom and teach people, mentor people, and guide investigations,” he said. “I was doing that on a small scale in Brooklyn.”

Now, the Holtsville resident and father of four has the opportunity to do that on a large scale.

“Out of nowhere,” he said, he got the chance to run for district attorney. Although he’s not a member of any political party, the 55-year-old was approached and ask to run on the Republican and Conservative lines against incumbent Tim Sini. “It was unexpected, I’ll say that,” Tierney said.

With a campaign that derided the opponent as soft on crime, he defeated Sini. The margin of victory was healthy enough that the incumbent conceded on election night. The night, the so-called red wave, was historical, Tierney said. So too, was the win for a candidate who was not a politician, who’d never run for office before. Sini was seen by some as unbeatable, but, said the victor, “I certainly didn’t see him as unbeatable.”

“I was never handed anything in my life,” Tierney said. He started “at the very lowest level,” working the tough cases and learning. During the mid-1990s he prosecuted a locally notable case — the beating of Shane Daniels by Austen Offen and Constantine Chronis outside a nightclub in Westhampton Beach.

The U.S. Attorney’s office was a whole different practice, with very involved investigations. Tierney found fault with his foe, looking askance at his penchant for press conferences and press releases. How many of them were about arrests as opposed to court victories and sentences? “The arrests are the easiest part of any investigation,” Tierney said. Sini’s rhetoric at press conferences didn’t match the results in court, he said.

In the campaign, Tierney articulated plans to focus on gangs, violent crime, and overdoses. Locally, serious violent crime is rare, but identity theft is widespread. At the U.S. Attorney’s office, Tierney prosecuted a call center in India that swindled millions of dollars from victims by pretending to be IRS agents. The investigation led to the owner of the call center, and when he visited New York, Tierney said, “We caught him at the airport and he’s in jail.”

Those cases are difficult to do because they cross jurisdictions. He plans to meet with counterparts in the Eastern District of New York. They have a relatively small unit, Tierney said, and “identity theft crimes, the fraud crimes are out of control. So much so, the U.S. Attorney’s office, their threshold is in the millions of dollars before they’ll take the case, it’s just so rampant. We’re going to work with them because what we have is manpower. We’re going to work collaboratively with them.”

He revealed that as he worked on street gang crime in Brooklyn, he saw the gangs move away from drug dealing to identity theft, and especially credit card fraud cases.

For those cases, you need nimbleness, to almost follow them in real time, he explained.

So, too, is aggressive, quick response necessary with another crime that’s surged locally, the theft of luxury cars. Tierney said he saw gangs in Brooklyn travel to Long Island to steal cars they’d use in drive-by shootings.

Car theft is what’s known as an index crime. It would be part of the crime strategy unit Tierney wants to convene to map index crimes and look for trends.

He felt a lot of instances of cars being stolen, shots being fired were downplayed by his predecessor.

“We were continually being told crime was never lower and we were never safer,” he said.

But on the campaign trail, community members spoke of fear, shots fired just about every night.

“That’s not being reflected in the crime statistics and I’m going to do something about that,” Tierney said.

He wants to implement ShotSpotter gunfire locator technology. Using a computer algorithm, ShotSpotter identifies when a gunshot was fired, eliminating the need for witnesses to take the risk of being the one reporting it. Where gunshots are not reported, criminals can become emboldened, Tierney explained, and shots fired can be a precursor to tragedy in a neighborhood.

“We want to let everyone know — both the community and the bad guys — we’re paying attention,” he said. “People deserve to live in safety and I’m going to fight like hell to make it happen.”

The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging you have it, he said. “And we definitely have a problem with shots being fired and illegal handguns and I’m going to address that.”

On the stump, the candidate decried New York’s “liberal, pro-criminal policies.” Listing the slate of criminal justice reform, bail reform, the clean slate law, parole reform, and elder reform, he spoke of their shortcomings. He acknowledged that he can’t legislate as a D.A., but he can point out failures in measures adopted by the government.

Of laws that fall short, Tierney looked at the marijuana legalization. He questions whether communities will reap a fiscal benefit from taxes and instead suspects the law will create a trade for drug dealers, as users think, “Why should I pay $50 for what I can get for $10?”

Additionally, he echoed concerns law enforcement has raised about smokers driving under the influence. There’s no simple way to determine pot impairment, no handheld device like an Intoxilyzer.

“The way it was implemented, I don’t think it took public safety or even the public welfare properly into consideration,” he said.