What's most disturbing about the corruption indictments of three former top Nassau County Police Department supervisors is how routine it all feels.
Zachary Parker, now 20, was accused of stealing $11,000 in electronics from his Bellmore high school in 2009. But his father, Gary, who had donated $110,000 to the Nassau County Police Department Foundation, served on its board, and is said to have spent at least $17,000 taking top cops out for meals and to sporting events, allegedly knew what to do.
Now a Nassau grand jury is charging three former police commanders with misdemeanor conspiracy for trying to make the case against Zachary Parker disappear. Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan and Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter, both of whom retired Wednesday, and Seventh Precinct Detectives Squad Deputy Commander Alan Sharpe, who retired in January, pleaded not guilty on Thursday. Neither Parker has been charged in the alleged conspiracy.
Flanagan, who also faces a felony charge of accepting gift cards worth hundreds of dollars in return for his help, was making $224,929 per year. Hunter was getting $177,874 and Sharpe $138,776. They'll keep their pensions even if convicted.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice says emails between Parker's father and three officers show they were eager to undercut an investigation to help out a benefactor. The messages read as if such favors are run-of-the-mill business for such good buddies. It was apparently his dad's friendships that got Zachary Parker a civilian job in the department's ambulance unit in 2008, and records show Nassau police had run the younger Parker's license plate 20 times, yet never issued him a ticket.
Because Parker was employed by the department, accusations against him should have been handled by police internal affairs. According to the indictment, moving the case to Hunter's jurisdiction was the first favor Hunter and the commanders did. It is alleged that they tried to get the school to drop the charges, even attempting to trick administrators into signing forms that would end the case. For some time they also allegedly refused to return the stolen equipment if the school wouldn't drop charges.
Most troubling is that the perp-walk of three former top officials is just the latest embarrassments for a department that's the envy of the nation for its benefits and work rules. This follows the shutdown of the police crime lab, a disaster that's costing the county millions. Taxpayers are told not to worry: The money is coming from a forfeiture fund whose details Flanagan had said didn't have to be made public. An internal affairs report on the handling of Jo'Anna Bird's domestic-violence complaints and her fatal stabbing by an ex-boyfriend in 2009 -- a crime that cost two children their mother and the county $7.7 million -- remains secret. And former Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey's defense of the accused, that such an outcome isn't unusual when a student is accused of a crime, particularly when the parents are "upstanding members of the community," suggests problems with the culture of the department have come from the top.
The department has a new leader in Commissioner Thomas Dale, an outsider with a strong reputation. His challenge is clear: The culture has to change. Internal affairs must do real investigations of officers, and cops with conflicts must recuse themselves. Dale also needs the power to discipline his officers without an arbitrator's permission.
Business as usual in the NCPD can't go on.