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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Court restores cop discipline power to Nassau

Nassau County Police emblem. (May 16, 2012)

Nassau County Police emblem. (May 16, 2012) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Nassau's next top cop could have what former Commissioner Thomas Dale never did -- full authority to discipline police, up to and including firing them.

Restoration of that power came in a pair of decisions, the last one handed down earlier this month, by Supreme Court Justice Anthony L. Parga.

The judge in two strongly worded decisions backed a 2012 change in Nassau law that repealed a piece of administrative code that had effectively vested police discipline to arbitrators rather than with the police commissioner.

James Carver, head of Nassau's Police Benevolent Association, said last night that he knew of Parga's first decision, in July, but had not reviewed the second, which came down Dec. 5.

"We are going to appeal," Carver said. "All we are looking for is a process that is fair to police officers, because right now there seems to be different standards in disciplines for officers and those with brass."

In his July 19 decision, Parga wrote, " . . . The Nassau County charter vests the power to discipline members of the police department exclusively with the commissioner of police."

An administrative code change in 2007 gave officers the right to have their cases decided in binding arbitration. Parga called that "an attempt to divest the commissioner of a portion of that disciplinary authority . . ." He ruled the change invalid, saying it was "properly repealed."

In the decision this month, Parga took on a memorandum of agreement in 2008 between the union and the county under former County Executive Thomas Suozzi. The labor agreement gave police facing significant discipline the option of binding arbitration rather than a departmental hearing.

The decisions are a Pyrrhic victory for Dale, who was ousted last week over his involvement in the arrest of a witness in a politically charged election-year case.

Dale began working as commissioner in January 2012, and early in his tenure Mangano backed the commissioner's quest to wrest back disciplinary authority.

On Monday, Mangano said he welcomed the court's decisions and the changes they likely will mean for the department and its next commissioner.

"For the commissioner to lead the department and have respect for the application of the rules and regulations, it is essential that he or she have the ability to discipline those who violate those very rules and regulations," Mangano said in a statement.

Dale said binding arbitrations hampered his attempts to change a department that recently has suffered a series of serious, dangerous and embarrassing incidents.

Parga, in deciding for Nassau, determined that the code change in 2007 conflicted with Nassau's charter -- which dates back to the police department's founding in 1925 and vested disciplinary power to the police chief.

That began to change in 2002, when Nassau and the PBA agreed to refer disciplinary and other issues to an arbitration panel.

That panel in 2004 came back with an award that, for the first time, granted PBA members faced with suspensions of 10 or more days without pay the right to seek binding arbitration.

Once the State Court of Appeals in 2006, in a New York City case, found that police discipline could not be subject to collective bargaining under the Taylor Law, Nassau's Legislature passed the code change in 2007.

In 2012, at the urging of Mangano and Dale, the county legislature rescinded the code change.

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