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Nassau police use 'Y' to refer to Asian-American officers in records

Officials say they'll "immediately" fix the designations in the computer system, which is more than 25 years old. The police commissioner says the department is in no way biased.

A Nassau County Police Department patch.

A Nassau County Police Department patch.   Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The Nassau County Police Department uses "Y" for yellow to describe Asian-American officers and "I" for Native Americans, the New York Civil Liberties Union said as it published a database of records from police departments across the state.

Nassau police officials said the designations stem from a 25-year-old information technology system and promised to "immediately" revise them.

The letter designations were found in a chart on the department’s diversity for January 2016, according to personnel documents posted on the NYCLU’s database. Minorities made up 37 percent of the county’s residents but 18 percent of Nassau County police officers, the NYCLU said.

Behind the Badge, an NYCLU report released this month based on three years of public information requests to 23 police departments, also said Nassau, like many of the departments, resisted the group's requests for access to public records that covered police stops, use of force, department diversity and other issues. 

"We're really just looking for transparency and accountability and at this point, the Nassau County Police Department is not really answerable to anybody," said Susan Gottehrer, director of the NYCLU's Nassau chapter. "If they get to see us, we should get to see them."

She said "yellow" to describe Asian-Americans is "obviously derogatory" and that Native American is a more respectful and specific than the "I" for "Indian."

"Language is a real indicator of the culture of an institution," Gottehrer said. "The Nassau County Police Department really needs to make it clear to all the people it protects that it is sensitive." 

The NYCLU report prompted Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to order a countywide review of all computer programs, her spokesman said Monday.

"There will be no vestige of discriminatory language moving forward," spokesman Michael Martino said. "Native and Asian-Americans will be properly referenced in our computer systems. We are looking for any other programs throughout the county which may have improper notations and will make immediate changes.”

In a statement, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the department is not biased as it strives to protect all residents.

 “The department enjoys an excellent rapport with all of its residents and has established the Commissioner's Community Counsel to promote information sharing and enhanced relationships in all of our communities," Ryder said. "In this particular situation, this computer program was developed over a quarter century ago and in no way has the use of these letters reflected any bias toward our Asian-American or Native American residents."

The report also publicized information from Suffolk County police.

Ryder said his department will review the NYCLU findings and make recommendations. "Our goal is to continue to provide the best law enforcement to all members of our communities," he said.

The NYCLU launched its database with records from seven of the 23 departments and says it will release more later.

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