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Nassau executive, police commissioner vow to release traffic-stop data

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.   Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Anthony M. DeStefano and Matthew Chayes. It was written by Brodsky.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder pledged Tuesday to publicly release data, collected over the past two years, tracking the race and ethnicity of motorists stopped and searched by police.

The move comes a day after a Newsday data analysis showed Suffolk County police subjected Black and Hispanic drivers to tougher traffic enforcement actions than white motorists.

Curran, a Democrat, called the data collection an "incredibly important" step in improving relations between the community and police. She said she would release the information no matter what it shows.

"We are doing a full-court press to get the data, and I know day-to-day we are getting more and more," Curran said after a news conference Tuesday in Oceanside. "We are synthesizing it and going through it. And hopefully soon we will have news to share."

In an interview Tuesday, Ryder said his officers began to collect traffic stop data about two years ago that includes the race and ethnicity of the driver.

"We have a small sampling which is not fair to either side," Ryder said of the data collected. "We will release it. That is not a problem. We will give you those numbers. But we should really be better in collecting it by race."

Long Island minority advocates encouraged Nassau to quickly analyze and publicly release its data.

"If they do not have the data, then say you don’t have the data," said Tracey Edwards, Long Island's regional director of the NAACP New York State Conference. "If you do have the data, and it hasn’t been analyzed, then analyze it."

Edwards said Newsday's analysis validates concerns that minorities are subject to stricter traffic enforcement than whites in Suffolk, even though the department has said its policing practices were free of bias.

"Now we have the facts that dispute their claim of bias-free policing," she said, "and we need to have that same assessment done in Nassau County."

Newsday's analysis found that from March 2018 through the end of 2019, Suffolk police officers pulled over Black drivers four times more often than white drivers and searched their vehicles three times more frequently.

Hispanic drivers were pulled over twice as often as whites and were 1.7 times more likely to be searched by police, according to the data, which was collected by Suffolk as part of a federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after the 2008 killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in an attack by seven teenagers.

But the data also shows Suffolk police found weapons and drugs less frequently when searching the Black and Hispanic drivers than when they searched white motorists.

Law enforcement needs proper legal grounds to stop a motorist, order a driver from their car or to search a vehicle.

Earlier this week, the Nassau Police Department, which is not under a similar federal agreement, declined to provide Newsday with its traffic stop data or to provide an accounting of the information it collected.

The state's traffic summons system, known as TraCS, captures the name of the driver, the type of infraction, the vehicle involved in the stop and the location of the incident.

As part of Nassau's compliance with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's June executive order — mandating every police agency in the state evaluate its policies on the use of force, crowd management and bias training — Ryder plans to recommend that a motorist's race be added to the TraCS system, "so that our data is then accurate and it’s recorded a lot better than it is currently being reported."

Cuomo's executive order, and subsequent legislative police reform bills, were sparked by nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd's death while in police custody in Minneapolis.

E. Reginald Pope, president of the Nassau chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, contends the county's unwillingness to release its data is emblematic of the "Blue Wall of Silence," when officers decline to report on their colleagues' errors and misconduct.

"They’re not transparent," said Pope, of Roosevelt. " … You’re not really aware of it because there’s no statistics provided."

Pope recalled that as a young real estate broker working in then majority-white communities of East Meadow, Levittown and on the North Shore he would routinely be stopped by the police, questioned and ticketed — even when, he said, he had done nothing wrong.

"They would target you here," he said.

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