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Group urges Nassau lawmakers to make aggressive push for police reform

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran talks Wednesday in

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran talks Wednesday in Mineola about police reform efforts. Credit: Barry Sloan

Critics of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's police reform plan, also the authors of a competing proposal, urged county lawmakers to consider more aggressive measures Wednesday before finalizing a plan with the state.

The pitch came during a legislative hearing in Mineola after authors of "The People's Plan" broke with Curran in January over the issue of reform. Advocates said they were not adequately consulted before Curran's draft was published in early January.

The advocates' 310-page document outlined 12 major areas for reform, including handling of mental health crises, civilian and internal complaints, traffic stops and search warrants. "The People's Plan," introduced last week, calls for creation of an Office of Police Inspector General to serve as a watchdog over the Nassau police department.

In June, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo required municipalities with law enforcement agencies to overhaul their police departments. The governments must evaluate practices ranging from use of force, crowd management, bias training and response to citizen complaints, or risk the loss of state funds.

The Nassau Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, must sign off on a final proposal before it is filed with New York State. The deadline is April 1.

Tracey Edwards, NAACP Long Island regional director, called on lawmakers to adopt real reforms.

In a dig at some of Curran's proposals, Edwards said: "The NAACP is not looking for props. We're not looking for newsletters. We're not looking for more sports games."

Referring to the county's disclosure that it would begin collecting ethnic data behind traffic stops, Edwards said: "Collecting data is fine, but they should have been doing that anyway."

"And we won't want you to blame the racial disparities on the individual police officers and think that body cameras and a little anti-bias training will fix this. This is not a 'bad apples' … this is structural and institutional policies that have been there over time, that the officers are following the rules."

Edwards also pointed to the reference, in Curran's draft, that in October, Nassau had been rated "the safest county" by U.S. News & World Report.

"So, please don't take the bait that we are the safest county, and many of the initiatives we are doing anyway, so all we need to do is to make incremental changes to our existing policies. That's not why we are here."

In a statement, Mike Fricchione, a spokesman for Curran, said: "We thank these reform advocates for submitting their comprehensive, well-thought-out plan. There are many more similarities than differences between the County’s draft report and the advocates' proposal. The County’s reform plan includes comments and suggestions from more than 120 public input sessions, the vast majority of which were either approved and implemented or used to modify current policy. By the end of the legislative process, we expect to submit a robust police reform plan to Albany that everyone can be proud of."

Pressure from progressives comes as Curran, a Democrat, runs for reelection in November.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) opposed removing school resource officers, an idea mentioned by advocates Wednesday.

"We cannot as a society start attributing or painting all police as negative, as pernicious," Nicolello said.

After Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said, "many minority communities don't want defunding the police," the advocates objected to her mentioning that phrase.

"Nobody said defunding," said Frederick Brewington, a civil rights lawyer and one of the plan's authors. "Please let's just strike that. … Let's not go there."

Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, took a moment to clarify with legislators that "defunding the police" was not part of "The People's Plan."

Brewington characterized Curran's plan as "cosmetic" and criticized its handling of internal affairs complaints.

He urged creation of a civilian complaint review board and said the focus should be on "how do we help police police, without having them to police themselves?"

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