Minority legislators implore A.G. to establish police oversight office in Nassau

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The Nassau County Legislature approved plans for reform throughout the county's police department on March 22. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

Three legislators from Nassau County’s minority caucus have sent a letter to state Attorney General Letitia James asking her to establish an independent office to monitor misconduct in the Nassau County Police Department.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), Legislator Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Legislator Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) all signed a letter sent March 26 after the County Legislature approved a revised 424-page plan to reform and reinvent policing put forward by County Executive Laura Curran on March 22.

The plan, approved 16-3, was submitted in accordance with an executive order that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in mid-June, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, that requires each police agency to devise a plan to “reinvent and modernize police strategies” by April 1.

Abrahams, Bynoe and Solages, the three opposing votes on the legislation, said the plan failed to incorporate a civilian complaint review board or inspector general to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

Bynoe also said she wanted the plan to enhance its Early Intervention System, which deals with departmental intervention for at-risk officers. Bynoe said the department should implement a comprehensive performance review to identify at-risk officers who could be eligible for intervention.

As of now, the county relies on the state Law Department’s Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office for oversight of the Police Department. The legislators proposed to have a regional branch of the office focus solely on any misconduct in the department.

“In the absence of targeted state resources, Nassau County’s approach appears destined to result in a level of third-party oversight which will prove inadequate to meet the needs and expectations of the community,” the letter said.

Bynoe, in an interview with Blank Slate Media, noted that Suffolk County and the Village of Hempstead use third-party entities to monitor police misconduct and said Nassau should have the same measures in place.

“We have also learned of allegations of misconduct as fiduciaries for the county,” she said. “As we settle lawsuits, it has become clear to us that we need to have the most resourced and independent review process employed.”

Efforts to reach a representative from James’ office for comment were unavailing.

Curran and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder praised law enforcement officials for their work and expressed confidence that they would serve the community effectively and appropriately.

“I thank our residents, community stakeholders, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and law enforcement officials for their continued engagement and common focus to reform policing,” Curran said in March. “Our plan focused on police reform through robust community-orientated policing, transparency and accountability.”

Ryder said the department will implement 86 of the 90 recommendations community stakeholders made along with the 23 changes the department made on its own.

“The adopted reforms add a new level of accountability that our communities and residents require,” Ryder said in a March statement. “The police department will continue to serve our residents in the most professional manner.”

According to the plan, the Police Department will implement a body camera program this year and will review “best practices” to put forward a program mutually beneficial for officers and the community. According to the plan, RedLand Strategies, a company that specializes in emergency management for municipalities, will be the adviser for the initiative.

The county will formally begin the process of selecting a vendor for the cameras once the Police Department works with the county’s Shared Services Department to identify best practices for body cameras.

Bynoe and community activists said just having body cameras is not enough of an accountability measure for officers.  Bynoe referred to the filmed incident of George Floyd being killed by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on the back of his neck.

“One of the common themes we kept hearing from the county’s administration was that we were all happy with the plans because of the body cameras,” Bynoe said. “We wanted to illustrate the point that body cameras were not the start and finish of this reform plan.”

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