Some of the new Suffolk police recruits are sworn by...

Some of the new Suffolk police recruits are sworn by Commissioner Richard Dormer at the Suffolk Police Academy. (June 28, 2010) Credit: KEVIN P. COUGHLIN

This is the new face of policing in Suffolk County.

A class of 71 recruits, sworn in Monday, will be the first to have training - 20 hours - in Spanish language and culture. The class also will have more than double the state-required number of hours in sensitivity and diversity training.

Those are good things in a county on an island where demographics rapidly are changing.

The recruits' background is closer to reflecting the diversity of Suffolk: five are black, five Hispanic, and one Asian. Seventeen of the new recruits were formerly New York City police officers.

"We need a force that looks like Suffolk so we can effectively police Suffolk," County Executive Steve Levy said in an interview Monday.

It's a new way of doing things in a department that's being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department on allegations of discriminatory policing against Latinos who have long complained crimes against them get little attention. Levy says the changes in recruitment were under way well before the federal government began its investigation.

"We worked on this for a long time," he said. "We wanted a more diverse department so we worked with the NAACP and a lot of other groups to get more minorities to take the police exam. It's working."

In addition to learning Spanish language and culture, the newest officers will take sensitivity training; they will visit the Nassau County Holocaust Museum; they will hear from the county's Human Rights Commission. They'll also delve into the issues of sexual harassment, cultural diversity and profiling.

By the time they leave the police academy in Brentwood, they will have spent 44 hours in sensitivity, foreign language and diversity training - the state division of criminal justice services requires only five hours training, and none in foreign language.

That's a big deal for Suffolk.

And one of a number of extraordinary, and welcome changes.

The department's society of Hispanic officers recently signed on to sponsor the ballfields in Patchogue-Medford. And last week, society members and Third Precinct officers played a "Volley for Unity" game with Latinos (who are studying English) at a church in Brentwood.

In addition, the department has recorded public service spots, one of which has an officer, speaking in Spanish, saying that the department's job is to investigate crime, not ask about immigration status.

All of which, along with the new officers and their training, should make for more effective policing.

There had to be a better way.

The same, incidentally, can be said about the continued fight with Levy lining up against the county legislature and the police unions.

Try something new.

Because residents deserve more than a rancorous, seemingly never-ending debate on whether the department has enough resources to do its job.

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