Commish gets new power to discipline Nassau cops

Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale speaks to Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale speaks to the legislature before they cast a vote granting him permission on police discipline in Mineola. (May 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The Nassau County Legislature Monday broadened the authority of Police Commissioner Thomas Dale to discipline department employees in the wake of a series of scandals that have rocked the department.

But police union president James Carver said lawyers for the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association already are preparing a court challenge to that action. "It's a violation of our contract," he said.

The bill passed 14-5, with all 10 Republicans and four Democrats voting yes.

The measure, backed by Dale, would repeal a section of county administrative code allowing patrol officers to opt for binding arbitration when they face discipline of 10 days or more. The option is not available to members of the Superior Officers Association or the Detectives Association, Nassau's two other law enforcement unions.

The language was negotiated as part of the PBA's 2008 contract, Carver said. "Over the years, we saw that patrol officers weren't getting as fair a deal as those above them," he said. Carver, and leaders of the detectives and superior officers unions, told legislators that such power for the commissioner lends itself to abuse. But Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, (R-Massapequa), said, "The department isn't working, and I'm pleased to see a commissioner who says 'The buck stops here.' "

Schmitt went on to tell Carver that in the Jo'Anna Bird case, he remembers him telling the news media that none of his "guys did anything wrong."

Carver pointed out he really had said that "nothing the officers did led to her death." Schmitt responded: "Then why did we pay $7.5 million?"

That was a reference to a $7.7 million settlement approved by the county legislature for the family of Jo'Anna Bird, who was tortured and killed by an abusive boyfriend in 2009. Ten Nassau police officers were disciplined after investigators found the department failed to adequately investigate earlier domestic violence calls.

Two months after the Bird settlement was approved, three police commanders were charged by the Nassau district attorney's office with conspiring to derail a police investigation into a high school burglary committed by a teenager whose father was a financial benefactor of police. The police department also is investigating whether a former Seventh Precinct officer had sex with a woman who met him while he was on duty.Dale was hired by County Executive Edward Mangano in December to manage the 2,380-member department.

"The commissioner wants to administer discipline fairly and expeditiously," Dale spokesman Deputy Insp. Kennether Lack has said.

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