Outgoing NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison, nominated to become Suffolk’s next police commissioner, vowed Tuesday to tackle a broad agenda that includes solving the Gilgo Beach murders, implementing a 1,000-page reform plan and promoting accountability in the 2,400-office department.
Harrison, 52, said he will also work to build strong relationships with minority communities that have felt marginalized in the past by law enforcement and combat the opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of people on Long Island. He said he will make sure Suffolk police have the tools and training they need to return safely to their homes after every shift.
If confirmed by county lawmakers, Harrison would be the first person of color to lead Suffolk police in the department’s 63-year history.
"I love cops. I love police officers," Harrison said during a news conference in Hauppauge hosted by County Executive Steve Bellone. "They do God’s work every single day, helping people, and that is something that is underappreciated."
Bellone chose Harrison to lead the department after a seven-month search led by deputy Suffolk county executives Jon Kaiman and Vanessa Baird-Streeter. The Suffolk County Legislature’s public safety committee is expected to review Harrison’s nomination on Thursday. If that committee approves the nomination, the 30-year NYPD veteran’s appointment will go before the full legislature on Dec. 21.
"I’m honored and proud to welcome Rodney Harrison to be the next commissioner of this policing family," Bellone said.
Harrison succeeds Geraldine Hart, the former FBI official who led the department for three years before resigning in May to become head of security at Hofstra University.
The president of Suffolk’s largest police union said he is confident Harrison’s experience will be a boon to residents and officers.
"We welcome Chief Harrison to the greatest police department in our nation, and look forward to working collaboratively to ensure the residents of Suffolk continue to receive the level of services they have come to expect and deserve," said Noel DiGerolamo of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association.
Harrison is the only person in NYPD history to rise from the rank of cadet to Chief of Department. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea named him chief of patrol in January 2018, and Harrison became the NYPD’s first Black chief of detectives in December 2019.
"The people of Suffolk County couldn’t be in better hands," Shea said on Twitter Tuesday.
Harrison will officially retire on Dec. 30.
If confirmed, Harrison will inherit a department long plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse.
Former Chief of Department James Burke pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating the rights of a suspect he assaulted in a police precinct and orchestrating a cover-up.
Two officers accused of beating a suspected auto thief were suspended in March and three more were placed on modified duty for failing to intervene.
Newsday also reported over the weekend that in 2017, a Suffolk police officer sexually assaulted a detained woman while his partner falsified records about the treatment of the alleged victim.
"Misconduct and corruption is unacceptable and will not be allowed under my tenure," Harrison said.
Harrison also promised to visit minority communities to encourage young people to consider careers with Suffolk police. Newsday reported earlier this year that the department produced only 16 Black cops — out of more than 1,400 Black applicants — in the four years after the 2015 test.
Civil rights activist Jackie Burbridge said that Harrison has an impressive resume but he won’t be successful unless he makes a genuine effort to understand communities that have felt victimized by police in the past.
"I’m interested in what he plans to do, compared to his predecessors, to change the culture of the department," said Burbridge, co-founder of Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety.
Tracey Edwards, the Long Island regional director for the NAACP, said Harrison’s selection is just one step required for reforming Suffolk police.
"The County Executive must give full authority to the new police commissioner to make fundamental changes at the precinct levels and special units for the benefit of the great officers and all the communities that they swear to protect and serve," said Edwards, who served on the task force that developed Suffolk’s sweeping reform plan.
James Gruenfelder, president of the Suffolk Superior Officers Association, said the union was excited to have Harrison on board.
"I know he is coming from the NYPD but I want to welcome him to the best police department in the country," Greunfelder said.