Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did the right thing -- especially by Nassau County residents -- in pocket vetoing a bill last week that would have transferred authority to discipline police officers from a department's top cop to outside arbitrators.
Had Cuomo signed on, Nassau would have had to reverse a course set by former Commissioner Thomas Dale, who with the backing of County Executive Edward Mangano waged a successful court fight for the department head's right to discipline police.
Mangano applauded Cuomo, saying, "It's essential for the commissioner of police to have discipline abilities to properly administer the department."
But James Carver, president of Nassau's Police Benevolent Association, expressed disappointment.
"I think there was a fear of granting this in the atmosphere of what is going on in Albany right now," he said Monday.
In Nassau, the police commissioner handled discipline until 2008 when -- as a result of collective bargaining and, later, a change in Nassau's administrative code -- officers facing discipline were given the option of going to binding arbitration to resolve the matter.
"We think arbitration brings fairness to the process, but now we're back to a system where the commissioner is the prosecutor, the judge and the jury," Carver said. The union is still involved, Carver said, but, "It's more like collective begging than collective bargaining."
Former Commissioner Dale never got to use his disciplinary power. He was forced to resign in a political scandal in December 2013 -- weeks before the last of two court rulings returned discipline to the commissioner.
His successor, Thomas Krumpter, Nassau's acting police commissioner, said the department fired three officers last year, including one who shot an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station while off duty. Monday, Krumpter said he planned to schedule hearings for two other officers this year that could culminate in their losing their jobs, according to officials.
Not all disciplinary action in Nassau ends up with officers losing their jobs. Last year, more than 20 other department members ended up with other punishments.
"If you want to hold the leadership responsible for the department, the commissioner has to have control of the discipline process," Krumpter said.
What difference have the court rulings -- which are being appealed by Nassau's PBA -- made?
Krumpter said disciplinary cases take less time under the new system -- which more quickly sends the message about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
How did the department prepare officers, the majority of whom handle their jobs with commitment and professionalism, for the different way of handling discipline?
Krumpter said Nassau held ethics training after issues that included an officer who visited a girlfriend while on the clock. "We wanted to communicate where the bar is," Krumpter said.
The bottom line is integrity, he said. "If an officer is barred from testifying in court cases because of integrity questions, they don't belong on the force."