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AG Letitia James hits Nassau oversight of police misconduct allegations

In a letter to three Nassau County Legislators,

In a letter to three Nassau County Legislators, New York State Attorney General Letitia James said she would give "special scrutiny" to jurisdictions such as Nassau where formal oversight is "lacking." Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

New York Attorney General Letitia James criticized Nassau County's "failure to create meaningful checks on law enforcement" because county officials in a police reform plan did not propose a civilian review board to probe allegations of police misconduct, according to a letter obtained by Newsday.

In an April 13 letter to three Democratic Nassau County legislators, James said she would give "special scrutiny" to jurisdictions such as Nassau where formal oversight is "lacking."

James said she shared the lawmakers' "concerns about the failure to create meaningful checks on law enforcement in Nassau County and support your efforts to ensure that the appropriate oversight bodies are created."

Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) had written to James, asking her to open a regional law enforcement misconduct office in Nassau.

In her April 13 response, James said there was not enough funding to open the office.

James, a first-term Democrat, is the highest-ranking public official to criticize the Nassau County plan.

Local community activists were sharply critical of the police reform plan that County Executive Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder submitted to New York State in March because the proposal lacked a civilian complaint review board and Office of Police Inspector General.

Last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo required municipalities with police departments to update their policies to eliminate bias, or risk loss of state funds, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020.

The Curran administration rejected activists' proposals for expanded outside review.

Administration officials said there were enough internal and outside agencies on the local and state level to probe allegations of county police misconduct.

Administration officials also argued that the attorney general's new Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office, which opened April 1, could investigate misconduct allegations.

James said in her letter the new bureau was no "replacement" for a civilian oversight board.

But she said it was "our firm intention that the office give special scrutiny to those jurisdictions where local accountability and formal oversight is lacking, and that certainly includes Nassau County."

The State Legislature created the misconduct office in June 2020 after Floyd's death. The office is charged with creating a "strong, independent office" to boost police oversight by "by providing broad jurisdiction, independence, and extra scrutiny where existing systems may be failing," according to James' office.

A spokesman for James' office did not immediately say whether the letter applied to the police reform plan filed by Suffolk County.

Suffolk's plan also lacked a civilian-led review board. It gave the Suffolk Human Rights Commission authority to oversee complaints about police conduct, but investigations are left to the police internal affairs unit.

In a statement, Bynoe said Nassau County should expand oversight of police misconduct allegations.

"New York State’s highest ranking law enforcement officer has unambiguously stated that Nassau County’s current approach to third party oversight of law enforcement is totally inadequate," Bynoe said in a statement.

James' "feedback should serve as a clarion call for stakeholders involved in this ongoing process to return to the table in the interest of achieving the level of reform that the public deserves," Bynoe said.

County spokesman Mike Fricchione said in a statement that the Nassau police reform plan "preserves the County’s ability to enact further measures once we have a chance to see how the current reforms work."

Fricchione called James' Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office, "a valuable tool that improves the existing systems by providing broad jurisdiction, independence, and extra scrutiny ... "

With David M. Schwartz

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