Editorial: Mangano must restore professionalism to Nassau police

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks to Newsday Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks to Newsday in the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola. (Nov. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano wants to replace the police commissioner he just fired with a firm disciplinarian, someone with the same policies as the police commissioner he just fired.

Groundhog Day, Nassau County-style.

Once again, Mangano doesn't fully appreciate what needs to be done. Above all else, he needs a commissioner who is a leader -- someone who can inspire a dispirited department, someone who can restore its integrity.

Thomas Dale was forced to leave last week after an investigation by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice revealed that Gary Melius, the operator of Oheka Castle and a major supporter of Mangano, asked the commissioner to get involved in a highly charged election case. The Nassau County Police Department's overzealous response to Melius' call and unorthodox procedures led to the arrest of Randy White, a key witness in a case about an attempt to siphon votes from Mangano's opponent in the Nov. 5 election.

In Dale, Mangano had selected a commissioner who was highly regarded for his management style in the New York City Police Department. Dale, however, never built the internal relationships that would have given him better control of the suburban force. And while Dale made discipline a priority, he didn't always act decisively -- particularly in the case of Officer Anthony DiLeonardo, who after a night of drinking in 2011, shot and beat an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station. Dale never ordered a department trial for DiLeonardo.

In another embarrassing moment for the department, Officer Michael Tedesco retired after he was charged last year with spending hundreds of hours during his shift at his girlfriend's home. His sergeant, however, was fined only six days' pay even though that supervisor had access to GPS records showing that Tedesco was at the woman's home 50 percent to 75 percent of the time.

A mere "disciplinarian" is hardly the silver bullet here.

The NCPD, like all police departments, is a paramilitary operation. The rules must be applied fairly and consistently. There can no longer be exceptions for the members of the force who, in the shorthand of Mineola, are "politically hung."

And the public must be reassured there are not different rules for ordinary citizens and the connected ones, such as Melius. Earlier this year, Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan was convicted of misusing his position to help a friend's son escape arrest for a burglary. Chief of Detectives John Capece, who was also forced out in the White scandal, is being sued in federal court after he allegedly had a Westbury businessman arrested in a 2011 road-rage incident that involved Capece's auto mechanic. And how about those donors to police organizations who get special privileges to shoot at the NCPD firing range?

Restoring professionalism can't be accomplished solely by reforming the way the department is governed. Proposed reforms -- such as making disciplinary records public or eliminating the use of arbitration to resolve them, or even a civilian complaint review board -- are limited in their ability to truly transform the department.

Instead, the first priority of the county executive and his next commissioner must be to exorcise the politics of manipulation that has permeated the NCPD.

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