Suffolk County police pledged Thursday to be more responsive to Hispanic communities, as urged by the U.S. Justice Department, while the brother of a hate-crime victim called on the candidates for county executive to promise change.
Justice's recommendations were released Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation of the Suffolk police department. The probe began after Hispanic leaders questioned the department's commitment to fighting bias crimes in the wake of the November 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.
"Some suggestions they offer [in the letter] remain valuable," department Deputy Chief Christopher Bergold said.
Those include doing a better a job of explaining department policy changes to officers, making it easier for people to register complaints about police, and reaching out more to various communities, he said.
"If segments of the community feel we're not reaching them, we want to know that," Bergold said. "Can things be enhanced? Absolutely. That's how we're treating this letter."
But Bergold said Justice was wrong to conclude Suffolk police have misunderstood how to report hate crimes.
"We disagree entirely with that statement," Bergold said. "Our Hate Crimes Unit has highly trained detectives, and the law is clear on what a hate crime is."
Justice officials declined to comment further on the report and the continuing probe.
The teenagers who attacked Lucero had attacked other immigrants before the Lucero killing -- incidents that the Justice Department cited as the kind of warning signs that Suffolk police should track and investigate more closely.
"This report confirms what all of us community leaders, immigrant advocates have been saying throughout the years," said the Rev. Allan Ramirez.
Joselo Lucero, the brother of Marcelo Lucero, said Thursday that whoever replaces outgoing County Executive Steve Levy next year should make a commitment to needed changes in the Suffolk Police Department.
At a news conference at Brookville Reformed Church in Glen Head, Joselo Lucero said he'd like to meet the candidates, Democrat Steve Bellone and Republican Angie Carpenter, "to see how we can start a change" that would become a positive legacy of his brother's killing. Levy's successor should "try to find out some way to create trust in the police department," he said.
Speaking after their first debate Thursday, Carpenter said she is "willing to meet with any resident who wants to talk to the next county executive."
Bellone said, "It's shameful that we have to have the Justice Department come in to tell us how to handle hate crimes. These are heinous crimes and it will be a top priority to make sure they will be fully and accurately reported."