The reform plan includes a program instituting body-worn cameras for...

The reform plan includes a program instituting body-worn cameras for Nassau County police officers. Credit: Jim Staubitser

The Nassau County Legislature on Monday approved County Executive Laura Curran's police reform plan, a 424-page document that calls for implementation of the county's first-ever body camera program, diversification of department ranks and specialized responses for mental health crisis calls.

The approval ended a monthslong process that drew the ire of activists who pushed for more outside oversight of police conduct.

However, Curran, a Democrat, celebrated the plan's passage as "historic."

The 16-3 vote came without the support of the legislature's three Black members, all Democrats, who said the reform measures weren't substantive enough.

Dissenting votes came from Minority Leader Officer Kevan Abrahams of Freeport, Legis. Siela Bynoe of Westbury and Legis. Carrié Solages of Lawrence.

The plan must be submitted to the state by April 1.

Curran in a statement said her plan "focused on police reform through robust community-orientated policing, transparency and accountability."

She said the new bodycam program, "will enhance the high-quality public service expected of our police officers and promote deeper trust within the communities they serve."

Abrahams, Bynoe, and Solages criticized the plan's failure to create a civilian complaint review board or an inspector general to probe allegations of police misconduct,

Those initiatives were included in "The People's Plan" submitted by a coalition of community representatives and police reform advocates.

Activists and lawmakers who opposed the plan called the vote a missed opportunity to take a meaningful stab at reforming the county's police department.

"Ultimately, it's just not enough. It doesn't go far enough," Bynoe said. "It lacks accountability, to the extent there's no third party, no independent review of complaints."

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last May, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an order requiring municipalities with police departments to propose changes to eliminate bias within their ranks, or risk the loss of state funds.

Floyd's death led to protests on Long Island and across the nation.

Shanequa Levin, a co-author of The People's Plan, said the county plan "lacks real structural reform," as she testified during a three-hour hearing Monday.

"Voting for the Nassau plan as it is, without the amendments that we're going to be suggesting that you add to it … is like saying racial profiling is OK in Nassau County," Levin said."

Fred Brewington, a civil rights attorney and an author of the People's Plan, urged county lawmakers to table the matter until a date closer to April 1.

Democrats' voted in favor of a motion to table the bill, but the measure failed along party lines in the GOP-controlled legislature.

"If indeed it can't be done in the quiet of a hallowed chamber, we will go to the streets. and I will be there, all 64 years of my life, right out in front 'til I lose my voice," Brewington said.

Ryder said there was no need for an inspector general or a civilian review board to investigate complaints of misconduct.

"There are numerous layers of oversight for the police department," said Ryder, citing the police internal affairs unit, and agencies such as the Nassau County District Attorney's Office and the New York State Attorney General's Office.

"Any conflict, and we'll play the camera video," Ryder said of bodycams.

Ryder also noted there is GPS tracking on radios, cameras and in cars.

"We're not hiding nothing," Ryder said to jeers from some community advocates in the legislative chamber.

Ryder was responding to Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport), who had asked about requiring outside audits of department data and police conduct.

The hearing became tense after Solages began to question Ryder.

When Solages asked about data indicating that Black men are arrested more frequently than white, Ryder responded: "Our car stops, our arrests, are all based on probable cause. They don't get thrown out when they get to court."

Asked by Solages whether "racial biases" play a role in higher arrest rates among Blacks, Ryder replied, "Not at all."

Solages continued, "How can you be in a position to change a history of racism if you're not even acknowledging it?"

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) interrupted, saying of Ryder, "He's not answering that question."

Solages asked about the prospect that his son, who he said is 7, someday would be pulled over by county police.

"Does my son not get as nervous as your son?" Ryder responded.

Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County New York Civil Liberties Union, called bodycams only "a tiny piece" of police reform.

Gottehrer said the county's rejection of a civilian review board or an inspector general, "shows the most contempt of all."

Gottehrer asked, "The answer to oversight in Nassau County is to take it to the Attorney General if you have a problem? Again, the onus is on the public and the advocates. Not OK. We need local oversight."

Nicolello defended Ryder and praised the county plan.

The police department, "is not a racist institution," Nicolello said. "Our neighborhoods are by and large safe."

Brewington said to expect continued opposition.

"We will come like a wave, to help you change your mind," he said.

James McDermott, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said, "Our officers have no greater priority than the safety and security of each and every resident of Nassau County, and are willing to sacrifice their own safety and well-being for others. They are respected in the communities they serve, because it is their efforts that provide Nassau County’s 1.4 million residents the peace of mind that they are safe at home and throughout their neighborhoods."

With Candice Ferrette

NASSAU POLICE REFORM PLAN

The 424-page proposal calls for:

  • Two new questions on the police exam aimed at gauging implicit bias in recruits.
  • More hours of anti-bias training for sworn officers.
  • More data collection from traffic stops, including the “apparent race” of the individual stopped.
  • Body-worn cameras for police officers, to be implemented by this fall.
  • Police commissioner’s staff to meet with county attorney’s office to discuss pending litigation, settlements and verdicts involving allegations of police use of force in an effort to identify patterns of misconduct.

Source: County Executive Laura Curran’s Police Reform and Reinvention Plan

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