Rodney Harrison thanks legislators after being voted in as Suffolk County...

Rodney Harrison thanks legislators after being voted in as Suffolk County Police Commissioner at the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Credit: James Carbone

Rodney Harrison will be Suffolk's new police commissioner after the county legislature unanimously approved his confirmation on Tuesday, along with elements of a police reform plan he has vowed to implement.

Harrison, 52, the outgoing NYPD chief of department, is the first person of color to lead the 2,400-officer department in its 63-year history.

In testimony before the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature, Harrison said he would "change some of the negative narrative" stemming from past allegations of corruption and abuse.

"One of my drives is to build relationships with communities who have lost trust in the police," Harrison said. "I am ready and prepared to be your commissioner of the Suffolk Police Department."

During more than an hour of testimony, Harrison assured lawmakers he would implement the county's police reform plan, which includes body cameras for patrol officers, a civilian complaint review board and increased training for officers.

Legislators on Tuesday also approved an agreement with the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association pay all officers a $3,000 stipend for wearing bodycams.

Harrison said he would work to ensure compliance with the agreement and hold accountable officers who do not activate their cameras.

"Transparency builds trust. Trust combats crime," Harrison said.

In response to questions, Harrison said his plans include:

  • Teaming up more frequently with mental health professionals in responding to emergency calls involving mental health crises.
  • Developing investigative strategies to locate sellers of illegal opioids.
  • Backing efforts to provide judges with more powers to decide whether to grant bail for defendants.
  • Continuing to deploy school resource officers, and boosting recruitment of school crossing guards.

Harrison, the first person in NYPD history to rise from cadet to chief of department, succeeds former Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who resigned in May to head security at Hofstra University.

In questioning Harrison on Tuesday, lawmakers generally expressed their admiration for him. He had previously fielded many of the same questions before the public safety committee.

"Bring your knowledge. You will be a breath of fresh air here in Suffolk County," Legis. Samuel Gonzales (D-Brentwood) said.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) called Harrison "a beacon of hope" as the county's first Black man to lead Suffolk's police.

Spencer was indicted last month for lying to investigators as well as drug- and prostitution-related crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) told Harrison directly: "Support our cops. Stand up for our cops. They need you."

Harrison, after telling legislators his NYPD partner in 1995 had been shot, replied: "I love cops. I support cops."

Harrison also will be charged with reforming a department that has long been criticized for corruption and abuse.

Former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man he beat up in a police precinct and then orchestrating a departmental cover-up of the crime. Burke served most of his 46-month sentence before he was released.

In March, two officers accused of beating a suspected auto thief were suspended and three more were placed on modified duty for allegedly failing to intervene.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who nominated Harrison, said, "with three decades of policing experience, Chief Harrison has the skills, leadership and integrity to continue to move the SCPD forward."

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