The Suffolk police unit charged with investigating bias crimes will have a new commander with a higher rank, according to the police commissioner, who said the move will elevate the unit's stature.
Det. Lt. Stephen Hernandez has been named the new commanding officer of the Hate Crimes Unit, Commissioner Richard Dormer said Friday.
Hernandez, a fluent Spanish speaker, has held several positions in the department, including internal affairs investigator, Dormer said.
"We upgraded the position to detective lieutenant. It's a very important unit, like homicide and special victims," he said. "He's a competent commander and this will add another dimension to that unit."
The unit was led by Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks, who remains as deputy commander.
The group came under intense scrutiny after the death of Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant who was fatally stabbed in a racially fueled attack in Patchogue in 2008. Jeffrey Conroy, 19, of Medford, and six others were convicted in connection with the attack.
In the attack's aftermath, critics said the department had failed to adequately investigate several other attacks on Latinos. The federal government began an ongoing review of Suffolk's handling of crimes reported by Latinos.
A Suffolk police official last week said Lucero's death and its aftermath led to a nearly 30 percent jump in hate-crime reports in the county.
The change was one of 21 promotions that will go into effect Wednesday. Capt. Stanley Grodski of the Internal Affairs unit was promoted to deputy inspector. Deputy Insp. Gerard Gigante was promoted to inspector and will remain the gang suppression team's commander.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Grodski's new title.