Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

The firing of a veteran officer Monday for shooting and beating an unarmed cabdriver came on the same day Nassau welcomed 140 new police recruits.

Out with one of the old. In with the new. Or so residents, for one day at least, could hope.

It took more than three years for the department to fire Anthony DiLeonardo. While the temptation is great to celebrate the present, it remains necessary to examine how the department handled him.

The department, within 12 hours of the February 2011 shooting, cleared the officer for pulling a gun from an ankle holster and shooting five times into the cab -- twice striking driver Thomas Moroughan -- before going on to pistol whip him. DiLeonardo was off-duty and later acknowledged that he'd been drinking before the attack, according to a police internal affairs report.

Yes, internal affairs would determine that the shooting was unjustified -- and that plentiful evidence contradicted DiLeonardo's account of the incident.

But internal affairs didn't even begin an investigation until 99 days after the shooting. Even then, DiLeonardo -- up until his firing -- was allowed to remain a Nassau County police officer.

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The abuse of power in this case -- by DiLeonardo, by Nassau police officials who responded to the incident and by the department in the months and years after -- is staggering.

What makes the case even more horrific is the knowledge that the abuse and cover-up may have succeeded had Moroughan died from his injuries.

A series of reports by Newsday last year laid out case after case, in Nassau and in Suffolk, of disturbing police behavior. Yet until Monday, it appeared as if neither department was inclined to do much about it.

It took a change in the county's administrative code, and resolution of a lawsuit by police unions in the county's favor, to restore the commissioner's power to mete out discipline up to and including firing.

"In this particular case, the acting commissioner exercised proper judgment in terminating the officer," County Executive Edward Mangano said in an interview. "The message for other officers is, 'Perform your duties conforming to the rules and regulations of the department or you will be fired,' " he said.

Thomas Krumpter, the acting police commissioner who fired DiLeonardo, also negotiated labor agreements with county unions that Nassau's financial control board voted to accept early Saturday.

Does that mean Krumpter will formally take the department's top spot soon? No, according to Mangano. "We've got other things for him to do and we want to keep his momentum going," Mangano said.

The county plans to follow up Monday's new recruits with two more classes, likely in summer and in fall, Mangano said.

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That means the makeup of the department -- which has garnered attention for a series of incidents, from top brass convicted of corruption-related charges to the accidental shooting of a hostage -- will keep changing too.

Perhaps even for the better.