Criminal Justice Reform
Since taking office, Tim has been working to usher in a new era of reform to the criminal justice system, the District Attorney’s Office and Suffolk County as a whole.
Restoring Integrity to Suffolk County
Tim fights every day for justice, and to make Suffolk County a safer place to live, work and raise a family. After reforming the Suffolk County Police Department as Police Commissioner, Tim knew he couldn’t stop there. When he took office as Suffolk County District Attorney, the Office needed an overhaul, as justice was not being delivered fairly and there were no mechanisms to correct the injustices of the past. Tim set out to reform this.
The era of reform Tim brought to the Office includes:
Reforming the Office
Following the indictment of the former District Attorney and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau, Tim was elected by the people of Suffolk County to restore integrity to the leadership of the Office.
Tim’s Reform Initiatives
Immediately upon taking office, Tim conducted a thorough, top-to-bottom assessment of the Office. He interviewed all 180 Assistant District Attorneys and asked for their recommendations to improve the Office, including streamlining processes and reengaging federal law enforcement partners. To further ensure trust in the Office, he ushered in a new culture of compliance with all legal and ethical obligations. Tim not only adopted the most progressive voluntary disclosure policy in the state, he also required all ADAs to file financial disclosure forms to ensure impartiality for the first time.
Restructuring the Office
As part of reforming the Office, Tim restructured its leadership and procedures. He created new bureaus to address unmet needs and meet the public safety challenges of our time, including:
Modernizing the Office by Investing in Technology
Before Tim took office as District Attorney in 2018, the entire Suffolk District Attorney’s Office was paper-based. While this makes prosecuting cases in a 21st-century digital world significantly more difficult, it also makes it impossible to analyze past cases to take a holistic, critical look at the state of criminal justice in Suffolk County to search for improvements.
Creating a Paperless Office
Under the previous administration, not only was everything in the Office processed on paper but there had been no meaningful digitization done anywhere in the office. This meant that the data in each of the tens of thousands of cases the Office handles each year only existed in hundreds of thousands of physical files spread out in many offices across the county. Tim made it a priority to create an entirely paperless office by the end of his first term, and he succeeded by upgrading to a better, more efficient case management system that would allow the advanced data analytics on cases the county deserves.
Building an Advanced Data Analytics Platform
Digitizing the Office’s data is just the first step. Tim wants to be able to analyze the large volume of cases the office prosecutes for things like sentencing discrepancies based on demographic characteristics to eliminate bias. However, these are tough questions to answer accurately, as many factors go into determining a defendant’s sentence, such as criminal history and the unique facts and circumstances of each crime. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office is actively working with the New York Prosecutor’s Training Institute, the Manhattan DA’s office, other regional DA Offices, as well as public and private sector agencies, including the National Guard and Brookhaven National Laboratory, on building out an accurate system to collect and effectively analyze the data.
Diversifying Recruitment and Perspectives
When Tim took office in 2018, the Office did not reflect the Suffolk County community. Less than 10% of the attorneys in the Office self-identified as persons of color—and there was not a single person of color in a supervisory position in 2017. Tim sought to change that by adding a diversity of perspectives and experiences to the office. In just 3 years, Tim has nearly doubled the number of non-white ADAs, while increasing the applicant pool to bring in a more diverse group of applicants.
While there is still work to be done, the measures Tim has put in place are a significant accomplishment for a bureaucracy that is historically slow to change.
Implementing New Training Opportunities
Through his top-to-bottom assessment of the Office, Tim realized there was a necessity and opportunity to completely overhaul the training for prosecutors in the Office. Continuing even through the COVID-19 pandemic virtually, ADAs now participate in both internal and external training sessions about how to do their job more thoroughly and justly. Along with this training, the District Attorney’s Office provides Continuing Legal Education each year to ensure their prosecutors are employing the best, most up-to-date practices. In addition, the office seeks out training all over the country and sends Suffolk ADAs to these trainings to ensure they are bringing best practices from all over the nation to Suffolk County. The office now conducts over 600 hours of training for its ADAs every year.
Launching an Implicit Bias Program
Tim knows we all have implicit biases that cloud our judgment and can affect cases. He began building an evidence-based implicit bias training program for the DA’s office to ensure that those entrusted to deliver justice in our community are unpackaging and understanding the issue of implicit bias, correcting for it and addressing implicit bias in their work.
The program, a future national model for law enforcement, is being created in conjunction with the top trainers in implicit biases, including Harvard University, the county’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer, nationally recognized organizations and local community leaders.
Changing Up Recruitment Methods
To help in the goal of diversifying recruitment, Tim has implemented a new approach to reach more applicants and bring in top talent. Since 2018, the Office now participates in on-campus interviews and other events at dozens of law schools from across the country, including Ivy League schools and HBCUs.
Virtual Internship Seminar Program
The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stall or stop recruitment—in 2020, Tim oversaw the launch of an unprecedented virtual internship program with over 400 participants representing over 80 different law schools nationwide. The program opened up educational opportunities to students with limited resources and those coming from underserved communities who may have otherwise been unable to receive them.
Through the internship, the Office was connected with hundreds of diverse candidates for future employment who may have never considered Suffolk County as a prospective employer. Of the participants, 93% said the program made them more interested in joining the criminal justice system and interested in applying to work for Suffolk County.
How Tim’s Breaking Down Barriers to Entry
Correcting Past Injustices
From his experience both as a federal prosecutor and as the Suffolk County Police Commissioner, Tim knew that improving the criminal justice system did not just require ensuring justice for all today, but also correcting the injustices of the past. One of the very first actions Tim took when he came into office was to create the Conviction Integrity Bureau within the District Attorney’s Office, the first of its kind in Suffolk County.
The Conviction Integrity Bureau
Established by Tim in 2018, the Conviction Integrity Bureau investigates petitions of innocence from incarcerated individuals. The Bureau goes through past cases to see if there might have been exculpatory evidence that was overlooked or new evidence that would show they were wrongfully convicted. The Bureau has also partnered with the Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic of New York Law School to examine cases for potential post-conviction DNA testing that could help exonerate a wrongfully convicted individual. The Suffolk County Conviction Integrity Bureau has become an innovative model for the rest of the nation.
Exonerating Keith Bush
During Tim’s first term, following an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Bureau, Tim exonerated Keith Bush, a man who had served 33 years in prison for a murder he did not commit in the 1970s. Tim discovered that the original police and prosecutors had framed Mr. Bush and and intentionally buried exculpatory evidence which would have shed light on Mr. Bush’s innocence. After a thorough investigation in Tim’s first year in office, Mr. Bush’s conviction was vacated in May 2019.
Winning Federal Grants
Tim’s work to correct past injustices has been nationally recognized and has led the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to win highly competitive federal grants to continue doing this work. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded the Conviction Integrity Bureau over $849,000 in federal grants to aid in the investigation of wrongful conviction claims. This grant money allows the Conviction Integrity Bureau to continue doing this important work.