Nassau commish gets tough on cop discipline

Thomas Dale, Nassau County's police commissioner. (Jan. 12,

Thomas Dale, Nassau County's police commissioner. (Jan. 12, 2012) (Credit: J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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On March 30 -- 26 days after his confirmation -- Thomas Dale, Nassau County's police commissioner, sent down a department rules memo titled "Disciplinary Action."

Rule No. 1?

"All forms of the disciplinary process must be documented," according to the four-page notice, which took effect immediately.

Although documenting infractions has been a department order since 1982, relatively minor infractions, such as being late for shift, often were resolved in the past with verbal warning only, a department official acknowledged.

Now, such an infraction, which carries no fine or penalty, is to be "notated in the Disciplinary Action Record Book of the Command," the document said.

The memo goes on, in exacting language, to detail every procedure, department form, deadline and process for handling everything from witnesses to whether an officer suspended without pay is allowed to work an outside job.

"It lets everyone in the department, from the top to the bottom, know what the expectations are," said Deputy Insp. Kenneth Lack, a department spokesman. "The commissioner's goal, almost from day one, was to put everyone on the same page."

How serious is Dale, who declined an interview request Friday, about discipline in the department?

Let's consider the case of Michael Tedesco, an officer who police said is under investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Unit for repeatedly visiting a mistress when he was supposed to be on duty.

Tedesco wants to resign, but Dale is holding back his separation pay.

Under department regulations, the officer would have needed permission to resign, according to union and police officials. That wasn't going to happen, according to officials.

So Tedesco chose instead to put in his retirement papers into the state pension system, a move the department does not control. He will receive the state pension to which he is entitled for his 17 years on the job, officials said.

But even retiring officers go through an administrative clearing process, part of which considers whether there are ongoing internal affairs investigations. Since Tedesco skipped that process, the department is refusing to grant him what officers who retire in good standing get: a severance pay package, which for veteran Nassau police tends to be generous.

He also will not get the pistol permit police granted to officers in good standing because, officials said, the former girlfriend sought an order of protection against him.

James Carver, head of the Police Benevolent Association, said that the department's refusal to give Tedesco severance pay points out an inequity in how discipline works for officers and supervisors.

Former Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan and former Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter, two of three top brass indicted in March on corruption-related charges, were allowed to retire -- and receive extra severance pay as part of Nassau's retirement incentive program for the department.

"It's one way for them and another way for the little guy," Carver said. "That's not fair."

The difference, department officials said, is because Flanagan and Hunter were indicted as a result of a probe by the district attorney's office, making them able to retire under a presumption of innocence because their cases are still pending. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Tedesco, officials said, was in the midst of an ongoing internal affairs investigation. "There is a difference between cases in the criminal justice system and one in the administrative system," Lack said.

Dale has said repeatedly that the actions of a few officers should not sully the reputation of a department where most members handle their duties professionally.

An important part of maintaining a professional department, the commissioner believes, is having the top cop determine disciplines, which can be appealed under existing civil service rules, quickly and fairly.

The goal, Lack said, is to make clear what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior. "It's what any department does," he said.