Uphill battle for next Nassau cops commish

Thomas Dale at the Nassau County executive office

Thomas Dale at the Nassau County executive office in Mineola. (Dec. 2, 2011) (Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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Some Democratic lawmakers in Nassau County make no secret of their dislike of Thomas Dale, whose confirmation as county police commissioner was postponed Monday because Republicans didn't have the necessary votes.

During an earlier hearing on the also-delayed precinct consolidation plan, Legis. Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin) said, "We do not like you, Mr. Dale." His reasoning: Nassau needed an insider, not an outsider with New York City Police experience.

But with allegations of police negligence before Jo'Anna Bird's murder, the shutdown of the police crime lab, the jailing of an innocent woman for six months and a raft of other issues, Nassau desperately needs a fresh eye on the department.

Can Dale succeed? Given his experience in the NYPD, the answer could be yes -- if County Executive Edward Mangano, who recognizes the need for change, lets Dale do his job.

Democrats voted against his nomination in committee, and said they would have done so Monday. But the Mangano administration hasn't helped Dale's cause with lawmakers.

There was a bizarre scene at a recent hearing when Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker told lawmakers he -- not they -- would decide questions Dale would answer about a precinct reorganization plan.

Last week, county residents got recorded calls from Dale on Nassau's emergency notification system that turned out to be an infomercial for the precinct plan. By comparison, Suffolk used its emergency notification system last week, too -- to alert Sound Beach residents about reports of a gunman.

In an interview, Dale, of Oyster Bay, acknowledged what looked like a rocky start: "I did hear that, 'We don't like you, Mr. Dale.' To tell you the truth, it didn't really bother me."

He said he also isn't bothered by being considered an outsider. "I'm looking at everything from a totally different perspective," he said. "I think that's a plus for the department and for the people of Nassau."

Dale acknowledged the recent controversies surrounding the department. "We have had our share of black eyes and embarrassments. It is troubling."

An off-duty officer was caught on security cameras raising his gun and pointing it at a Farmingdale bartender and two off-duty officers were involved in the shooting of a Huntington Station cabdriver after an altercation last summer.

After the police lab was shut last year following repeated and widespread errors, a Hempstead man who had pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge was freed because of evidence problems.

Seemona Sumasar, who had been raped by an ex-boyfriend, spent more than 6 months in jail after the man framed her for robbery. The man, Jerry Ramrattan, was sentenced in January to 32 years in prison for the rape and frame-up. Sumasar has filed a civil rights suit against Nassau and New York City. Last month, a Queens judge said of Nassau police, "You wouldn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to discover something was fishy."

The Bird case raised questions about how police handled confidential sources and domestic abuse complaints. The county last month approved borrowing for a $7.7 million settlement for Bird's mother, who sued after Bird was tortured and killed by an ex-boyfriend.

And there's more. "I want my cops to act professionally," Dale said. "We will not stand for shenanigans out there."

Which is why he wants to streamline disciplinary procedures: "Discipline punishes, and it sends a message on what's unacceptable behavior. The way the system works now, the message part is lost."

Dale said the department remains an excellent one, pointing to, among other things, an officer who recently got a family to safety during a home invasion. "The vast majority of officers are doing their jobs, day in and day out," he said. "That's what I take pride in."