This story was reported by Jim Baumbach, Robert Brodsky, Paul LaRocco and David M. Schwartz. It was written by Baumbach.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder rebuffed calls for his resignation while offering an apology for remarks that Long Island civil rights leaders said negatively stereotyped Black and Hispanic families.
"My comments were not to paint any community with a broad brush," Ryder said while standing alongside Nassau County Executive Laura Curran at a news conference in Mineola. "And if I offended anybody, I apologize. That is not my intent and never was."
Curran also rejected calls to dismiss Ryder and distanced herself for a second day from his explanation that the department had difficulty holding on to minority job applicants because many came from "broken families" and lacked enough parental support.
"I don’t agree that family makeup results in diversity or lack of diversity in hiring," Curran said.
Among the remarks published in a Newsday video interview on Thursday, Ryder said:
- "I grew up around families that had cops in it, there was a push to take the test, there was a push to make sure I got everything done. I also had two parents at home pushing me, getting me up and making sure I went to the academy, making sure I did what I was supposed to do."
- "These kids struggle in these communities because they don’t have both parents around. They don’t have a family history of law enforcement. And they’re at a disadvantage starting off. And we have to recognize it’s true."
- "Look, a lot of these kids come from broken homes. A lot of the kids come from struggles in their neighborhood. And they need that advantage, they need someone to push them a little bit."
- "I can’t fix the family home, but I can fix the kid, I can help him get better and work with him to make sure we don’t lose that kid and get him onto the job."
Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Ryder’s comments will make being an effective leader and building trust with minority communities "very difficult."
"They're offensive, and they're very disturbing. They're concerning on so many levels, that the commissioner made those comments and feels that way."
Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) said Ryder’s comments showed "incredible tone deafness."
"Everybody has bias. It’s a question of: are you aware of your bias?" she said. "And his comments indicated to me that he’s absolutely unaware of his bias and that’s a real problem. My hope is that he will reflect and speak to people he obviously needs to speak to and get an understanding of what reality is."
Referring to statements in which Ryder also suggested that Jews showed a preference for becoming lawyers rather than cops and Asians opted to practice medicine instead of policing, Mulé also said, "Jewish people are not all lawyers. Asian people are not all doctors."
Both Democratic lawmakers, however, said that they were not calling for Ryder’s resignation, with Mulé adding that she felt he has been an "excellent" commissioner.
Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature, said: "His comments were poorly worded. I’m not sure what exactly his point was, but he’s someone who has never shown any indication of racial bias. And I’d say he’s done more community outreach to all communities than any of the commissioners I’ve dealt with."
Fred Klein, a Hofstra University Law School professor and former Nassau prosecutor who served on the county’s police reform panel, said that he has found Ryder to be "very sensitive to increasing diversity" in the police department.
"I know he spends hours and hours and hours interacting with community organizations to increase diversity, and the people who are calling for his resignation based upon his personal opinion are overreacting," Klein said.
In a Newsday story published Thursday morning, NAACP Long Island Regional Director Tracey Edwards and the county’s former deputy director of minority affairs, Luis Mendez, called for Ryder’s resignation. They were joined later in the day by civil rights lawyer Fred Brewington, who resigned with Edwards from Curran’s police reform panel, asserting that their voices had not been heard.
"There's no question he needs to step down," Brewington said. "He misunderstands what equity is, and his statement about this issue signals a much greater problem."
Mendez faulted Ryder for apologizing to people who may have been offended by his comments.
"It kind of shows you the institutional racism that he himself is a part of by not realizing that this is hurtful," Mendez said.
Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "Commissioner Ryder’s stereotyping and disrespectful worldview provide a clear window into a police culture that facilitates the abuse of people they’ve sworn to protect. And Curran’s lack of political will to address this racism head on reflects either an embarrassing lack of awareness or a willful denial."
"The fact that he doesn't have the sensitivity to know that he offended a whole bunch of folks that don't have parents that went to jail, then that tells you right there that you are out of touch with what you said," Mendez said.
Flanked by the Nassau department’s top brass, which include three Black chiefs and one white chief, Curran credited Ryder for their rise.
"You have behind me a diverse police leadership group," she said. "That doesn't happen by accident."
Asked about calls to dismiss Ryder, she said, "I don’t think that’s fair." Earlier she had said, "I have no plans to do that."
"I don't read from a script. I speak from my heart in my head. I give you what I'm thinking," Ryder said.
At and earlier media event, he also said: "It’s a general comment and it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, it wasn’t meant to be harmful. I’m looking for a solution, I’m looking for a cure, I’m looking to make my department more diverse."