Former NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison was sworn in Tuesday as Suffolk's first Black police commissioner, taking the reins of a department in the midst of potentially sweeping reform, the challenges of a pandemic, and a major effort to diversify the ranks.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone tapped Harrison, who rose from an NYPD cadet to chief of department, saying he wants Harrison to bring a new perspective to Suffolk County police.
"Commissioner Harrison understands exactly what it means to be a great police officer," Bellone said. "I cannot think of a more qualified person to lead this department."
Harrison was sworn in during a small ceremony Tuesday at the Suffolk County Police Academy, where the crowd was limited to less than 50 people due to rising COVID-19 cases. Harrison was joined by his family, including his wife, Laprena, and his daughters Amber and Tyra, who are all officers with the NYPD. He said he met his wife 30 years ago at the police academy.
Bellone also swore in new Suffolk police Chief of Department Robert Waring, who was promoted from chief of patrol. Harrison also brings with him Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Carter from the NYPD.
"This will not be easy. There will be long days, sharing ideas and strategies, but together we will make this a phenomenal public safety organization," Harrison said. "To the residents of this great county, it’s my honor to serve. I will do my best to make this the safest county in the state of New York … In order for me to be successful, I need to hear your concerns."
He said the new role is humbling as he looks to enact reforms such as body cameras, better police response to people in mental health crises, improving relations with minority communities, increasing diversity and boosting accountability in the wake of a corruption scandals.
Those challenges and others were spelled out in a 1,000-page reform plan recently created by a task force of police, county officials and community activists and approved by county lawmakers, following former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's order in June 2020 to modernize state departments in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Harrison said being selected as the county’s first Black commissioner was "a step in the right direction" toward the goal of diversity and a testament to Bellone’s character.
"The history of this police department has had some great commissioners before me, but for the county executive to choose me, an outsider, to lead this police department is impressive," Harrison said. "I’m not going to let him down and the residents of the community down. I’m going to make it a safe county."
Harrison’s daughters said it was inspiring to see their father appointed, adding that he was always there for his family and never missed his daughters’ basketball games. They said the new role will bring him closer to family on Long Island.
"Every time he gets a promotion, I wonder when he’s going to stop," Amber Harrison said.
Harrison told his officers that he expected them to work hard, but to put family first.
"The most important thing to me is that you sign out at the end of your tour and that you go home to your family," Harrison said.