Parts of the Nassau County Police Department’s newly revised use of force policy drew criticism this week from the county’s largest police union.
In a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board, the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association argues the department’s requirement that cops document when they use force should be considered a performance evaluation, which must be negotiated with the union, James Carver, president of the union, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Requiring cops to use Tasers before guns in violent altercations is also problematic because 500 of Nassau’s 1,700 officers do not carry the weapons and have not been taught how to use them, Carver said.
“If a policy is violated due to the fact that they didn’t have the equipment or anything, what’s going to happen to our officer?” he said.
The two provisions were part of an extensive revision to the use of force policy that went into effect July 8.
It now requires officers to submit a two-page report detailing incidents in which they use any level of force, said Robert Rettinger, a PBA spokesman.
It also places greater emphasis on using “intermediate” weapons, such as Tasers and pepper spray, before pulling a gun, Newsday reported in July.
Because the use of force report could lead to discipline for the officer who fills it out, it is improperly outside the process for performance evaluations outlined in the union’s contract, Carver said.
“High-ranking” police officials have privately said they plan to use the form for discipline despite never saying so to the union, Carver said. He declined to say who made those comments, citing the pending litigation over the policy.
The Police Department first bought Tasers in 2012 and started training new officers with them in 2013, but about 500 never received the weapons or training for them, Carver said.
The department plans to conduct Taser training during annual firearm retraining, which could take time away from training for either weapon, Carver said.
“There’s been plenty of time to train people,” Carver said. “Don’t make this excuse.”
Tatum Fox, the police department’s assistant commissioner of legal affairs, defended the use of force policy in a statement.
“The County’s position is that the Police Department’s policies as to the use of force, including the requirement that an Officer complete a form whenever any force is utilized, are entirely lawful and proper,” Fox said.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter told Newsday in July that the forms would be used to track use of force in the department, and that discipline or retraining might be required if problematic trends arose.
A department spokesman did not respond to further questions about Tasers and Carver’s other claims.
Cases in which police officers use force have come under heightened scrutiny in recent years following police killings of unarmed people, many of them African-American, without criminal consequences.
Some have sparked nationwide protests and media attention.
The Nassau PBA does not object to the policy as a whole, only these few problematic components, Carver said.
“There has to be transparency any time an officer takes someone’s life,” he said. “That’s number one. We understand that. But we also want to ensure that when an officer is presented with a situation like that, that the transparency is true, that he’s given a fair shake too when he takes an action like that.”