Editorial: Nassau police need more than cop-only oversight

Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec. Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec. 28, 2013. Police are intensifying patrols at religious places of worship the week of April 14, 2014 as Long Islanders of different faiths observe the holidays and in light of Sunday's deadly shootings at two Kansas Jewish centers. Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

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The idea that a new use-of-force policy and Deadly Force Review Board stocked entirely with Nassau top cops are going to be enough to restore the public's trust in the Nassau County Police Department is almost as unbelievable as the fact that the department didn't already have such a panel.

Such a board, composed of top-ranking cops, is standard in departments as large as Nassau's, so it ought to have one. But the department is going to need a whole lot more than just that panel.

The Nassau department's problems are as much about its leadership as about some of the 2,200 rank-and-file cops on the street, not just because police culture is created from the top down, but because some of the department's past leaders have committed inappropriate, and even criminal, acts.

Commissioner Thomas Dale was forced to resign after he had a young man, Randy White, pulled off a county bus and arrested at the behest of Gary Melius, a powerful friend who was helping the re-election campaign of County Executive Edward Mangano. It was Melius who recommended Dale to Mangano.

Three other high-ranking cops were convicted of abusing their positions to keep a police benefactor's son out of jail.

And an investigation is continuing over gun permits amid allegations that the department issued licenses to people who should not have had them, including at least one politically connected applicant with a history of domestic violence issues.

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What's needed, in addition to the new oversight from department leaders, is a second panel, a civilian review board, that can hear, investigate and report on complaints ranging from deadly force incidents to more everyday occurrences.

Unfortunately, the department's shortcomings now can only truly be measured in the taxpayer dollars the county pays out in damages after it loses lawsuits. Victims win monetary judgments with regularity. And nothing seems to get any better.

White, who was the center of the Dale fiasco, is now suing the department.

The family of Andrea Rebello, the Hofstra student killed by a police officer during a robbery and hostage-taking by an ex-convict, is suing too, claiming the county and police are negligent in training and supervising officers and dispatchers. The suit also claims the department is negligent because of its history of finding that every police-involved shooting since at least 2006 has been justified.

And the latest case could come from Kyle Howell of Westbury. The Nassau district attorney dropped assault and other charges against Howell this week after he produced a video of the cops beating him. Now Howell's allegations and the video are likely to be reviewed by a grand jury to determine whether charges should be brought against the officers.

A review board composed only of department leaders can make every case a nest of conflicts. It's not enough. The department also needs a panel composed of outsiders; such boards are fairly common.

Embarrassed by Dale's resignation in December, Mangano promised a national search for a fresh face who would be a disciplinarian. That search has gone nowhere. Mangano needs to find a police commissioner who can lead the culture change, one who won't be afraid of the department being reviewed by those who don't wear a badge.

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