The Suffolk Legislature's hate crimes task force, already mired in controversy, suffered a new setback Tuesday night as the deputy commander of the police department's bias crimes unit unexpectedly resigned.
Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks, who commanded the unit until last week, read a resignation letter to task force members at the outset of their meeting in Hauppauge Tuesday night, saying, "Recent events have occurred . . . that have directly affected my ability to continue to represent the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes unit" as part of the task force.
The department installed Det. Lt. Stephen Hernandez as commanding officer as of last week, leaving Reecks as the deputy. Reecks said task force inquiries should be directed to Hernandez.
Lawmakers set up the task force in the aftermath of the killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008. It will hold public hearings and look at how to improve handling of hate crimes.
The task force meeting is the first since Task force Chairman Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) criticized the Levy administration earlier this month for getting an early copy of a draft report on the hate crimes issue before it could be reviewed by the task force itself.
The panel voted "to take full control of the report" using the draft as a basis for completing the document. It set no deadline, but Gregory said he hoped the work could be completed in two months.
After Reecks' resignation, task force members expressed appreciation for his work and concern for the loss of his experience. Reecks, 56, a 30-year police veteran, declined to comment further after the meeting.
Gregory said he was "totally surprised" by Reecks' move. "It unfortunately sets us back because he was our only expert on hate crimes," he said.
Police officials said the installation of Hernandez was an attempt to elevate the status of the unit and the attention to bias crimes. Asked about the resignation, Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said through a spokeswoman that Reecks "should have communicated to his superiors his desire to step down from the Suffolk County Hate Crime Task Force prior to tonight's meeting, especially considering that he was appointed to this position directly by" Dormer.
The spokeswoman said the possible replacement of Reecks on the task force with Hernandez is "under consideration."
Roberta Richin, executive director of the Council for Prejudice Reduction, said Reecks is FBI-trained and has experience with hundreds of local bias cases. "The issue is who is the most experienced to command," she said, "Reecks absolutely has the experience," adding the change is "regrettable but reversible."
Mark Smith, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, declined to comment.