Nassau County police Commissioner Thomas Dale wants to lay down the law on officers who disgrace the badge and impugn the department's reputation.
Dale's efforts to broaden his authority to discipline department employees face resistance from Nassau's largest police union and some Democrats in the county legislature. Critics of a bill that would give Dale the power to directly fire employees say it goes too far.
On Friday, Newsday reported the department is investigating whether a former Seventh Precinct officer had sex with a woman who met him while he was on duty. That officer, Michael Tedesco, was already under investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit for frequently visiting, while on duty, the home of his mistress, Tara Obenauer, 42, police said.
Sources told Newsday that police also are trying to determine the validity of allegations that other officers had sex with a woman in a van during their shifts.
Dale's spokesman, Deputy Insp. Kenneth Lack, said the commissioner is determined to remake the department, where he currently does not have the power to summarily fire employees. "The commissioner wants to administer discipline fairly and expeditiously," Lack said.
A former three-star New York City Police Department chief of personnel, Dale was hired by County Executive Edward Mangano in December to manage the 2,380-member department in the wake of a damning report from the state inspector general on the now-shuttered county crime lab.
In January, the legislature approved a $7.7 million settlement to the family of Jo'Anna Bird, who was tortured and killed by an abusive boyfriend. Ten Nassau police officers were disciplined after investigators found the department failed to adequately investigate earlier domestic violence calls.
Two months later, 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.
In a statement released Saturday, Dale said, "When I started my tenure I was briefed on several areas in the department I considered critical. Internal Affairs Bureau was one of those areas. There were over twenty open cases since 2007, twelve of which I considered very serious. I personally reviewed all of them and have recommended terminating eight officers."
He adds, "What I consider frustrating here in Nassau is that the commissioner of police does not have the authority to fire officers, or discipline them for longer than 10 days. Those decisions are left to an independent arbitrator. This is unacceptable to me and must be changed for the good of the department and the public."
Visits during shift alleged
Tedesco faces allegations he visited Obenauer's home at least 57 times over a seven-month period that ended in February, usually in uniform and in his patrol car during his shift, one law enforcement source has said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Obenauer's attorney said she and her children had been granted a temporary restraining order against Tedesco. "I'm afraid of retaliation from him," she said.
Obenauer lives on Long Island and works in the financial services industry. In 1992, she told The New York Times in an article headlined "Topless Bars For A Crowd In Pin Stripes" that she danced at a now-defunct Manhattan strip club called Stringfellows before going on to graduate school.
Obenauer, who is divorced, said she was shocked this February when officers from the police Internal Affairs bureau came to her home, but she told them the truth.
Tedesco has put in his retirement papers and wants to resign, but Dale is holding back his separation pay, officials said.
Referring to the Tedesco investigation, Mangano said, "These are serious and disturbing accusations which the commissioner of police is thoroughly investigating. We will have further comment once the investigative process is complete."
On May 21, the GOP-controlled legislature is expected to vote on a bill that would make the commissioner the final voice on officer discipline.
"The commissioner wants to be held solely accountable for the discipline process," Lack said. "An arbitrator is not responsive to the commissioner or the public. The commissioner would not have a say in the amount of discipline or the timeliness of the penalty."
The legislation is opposed by the Police Benevolent Association, the union for the rank-and-file officers, which has said its members will only get a fair ruling from an independent third party.
"The commissioner is using the Mike Tedesco case to overturn a contractual rule allowing binding arbitration," PBA president James Carver said. "This change would make him judge, jury and executioner."
He called on Dale to increase training and communication with officers.
Retired NYPD Capt. Edward Mamet, who works as a consultant and expert witness on law enforcement policy matters, said Nassau's police force suffers from a lack of supervision, a problem most likely exacerbated by budget cuts.
A supervisor, he said, needs to keep track of where his men are.
"They need tight supervision, and either there's not enough supervision now, or the policies aren't the best," said Mamet, who worked with Dale in Brooklyn in the 1990s. "That's what [Dale] is going to be faced with."
Nassau changed its administrative code in 2007 to allow 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.
Suffolk County has generally the same rules in its collective bargaining agreement, officials said.
While the Nassau PBA lobbied for the use of arbitration as a final word, it has never been used. Typically the county and the union settle all discipline cases through internal negotiations without arbitration, Carver said. Officers can also opt for a departmental trial, but that option has not been used since 1995.
Lawmakers are divided on the pending legislation.
"I have full confidence in Commissioner Dale's ability to restore discipline and root out corruption in the Nassau County Police Department," Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said. "The pending legislation should give him everything he needs to do so."
Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who voted against the bill when it passed through the Rules Committee in February, said it's too soon to evaluate the arbitration process.
"I am concerned about the fairness of the process," she said. "We need to make sure there is a level playing field."
Charles Drago, a former police chief in Oviedo, Fla., and police procedures consultant, said the commissioner needs to be the final voice on discipline.
"The commissioner is the one who's going to be held accountable, and he should decide what will be tolerated and what will not," he said. "You have to have someone with clear vision, who can articulate that to the troops. And that person must have enough power to carry out his vision."
Lack said that Dale has already taken steps to tighten oversight within the department that do not require legislative approval. Dale said he is briefed every day by the commanding officer of the Internal Affairs Unit. In the past, commissioners would sometimes be briefed by intermediaries.
In addition, all infractions by personnel -- large or small -- must now be documented. And supervisors, Lack said, are being held more accountable for their officers' conduct.