Residents of a southern Brooklyn gated community are calling for the chief of their private “police department” to resign after years of promoting nepotism and racism within the department, according to several former members and community residents.
Chief Jeffrey Fortunato — who’s led the Sea Gate Police Department since 2008 — has allowed officers to distribute illegitimate parking placards, ignore 911 calls, and bully anyone who speaks out against the corruption, several former members told the Brooklyn Paper.
“It’s run by corrupt liars,” said Curtis Rogers, a Sea Gate police officer who said the leadership has harassed him for speaking freely about the rampant bullying. “There’s prejudice, nepotism, favoritism — and those are some of their good qualities.”
The Sea Gate Police Department — a private law enforcement agency funded by the community on the Coney Island peninsula — draws many retired NYPD officers and young locals seeking an easy patrol job, officers said. The agency operates outside the jurisdiction of the city’s police force and employs “peace officers” who require less training than the city’s police force, although they are permitted to carry firearms and make arrests.
Many retired cops join the pseudo police force only to discover that Fortunato hires and protects his friends, often at the expense of the rest of the police force, ex-officers said.
In one case, Fortunato hired a personal friend in 2012, who almost immediately ensnared the department in a lawsuit after calling two other officers racial slurs, the lawsuit claims.
The 2017 complaint alleges that the new hire, Jeffrey Schneider, called a black sergeant a “militant n—-r sergeant” after learning he would have to report to him, and said he didn’t want to share a patrol car with a Latino officer, calling him a “that fat Puerto Rican s–c.”
Fortunato fired Schneider, but rehired him in 2015 as a sergeant and later promoted him to lieutenant, the complaint states. Former officers say that Fortunato finally fired Schneider in September of 2019 as a result of the lawsuit, but argue that Fortunato should leave too because of his role in the scandal.
“The chief needs to go,” said one ex-officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “The chief was covering up and condoning what Schneider was doing.”
One former officer said that he saw bogus parking placards and police paraphernalia, including department badges, made for community leaders responsible for overseeing Sea Gate’s finances.
“I personally saw a box full of identifications and badges in Chief Fortunato’s office that were assigned to civilian friends of Sea Gate and Sea Gate board members,” said the officer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The department’s use of parking placards raised eyebrows in 2013, when two Gothamist articles reported that a $300,000 Ferrari and a $116,000 Fisher Karma were parked illegally in Manhattan using Sea Gate Police Department parking placards. The placards falsely claimed to be issued by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which does not represent the department, and an officer for the department reportedly “chucked coyly” when asked if any officers own the flashy cars, one article claimed. Officers made about $13 per hour at the time, sources said.
Meanwhile, residents say that the department routinely does not respond to calls and hands out illegitimate tickets to whomever they please.
“When you call into 911 and request a police officer to come in … what would happen is that they’d transfer the call to the Sea Gate Police Department and sometimes they’d just cancel the call and say nothing happened,” said a longtime homeowner, Vincent. “The association uses them as bulldogs who go and harass people who haven’t paid their dues — they harass them by giving them tickets.”
Another former officer said he believed firing Fortunato could help the department turn a new leaf.
“There was this one day where four, five people quit,” said Steve Scordato, a former NYPD officer who worked in the Sea Gate Police Department for two years. “[Fortunato] should go.”
The Sea Gate Police Department declined to comment, and the Sea Gate Association did not respond to a request for comment.