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Suffolk lawmakers vote to overhaul policing in minority communities

Marcelo Lucero, 37, shown on Nov. 10, 2008,

Marcelo Lucero, 37, shown on Nov. 10, 2008, was beaten and stabbed to death by seven teenagers in Patchogue. Credit: Handout

The Suffolk County Legislature ratified a pact between the U.S. Justice Department and the county police department Tuesday to overhaul how it responds to crime in minority communities.

Advocacy groups praised the 27-page agreement as a good start.

But many, including the brother of Marcelo Lucero, the Ecuadorean immigrant who was killed five years ago in Patchogue by youths targeting Hispanics, said more needs to be done.

The agreement, approved on a 17-0 vote, calls for improved officer training, closer community ties and better tracking of hate crime and discrimination complaints so the county can provide services that are "equitable, respectful and free of unlawful bias." The pact, which caps a four-year federal probe, made no findings of past departmental errors or problems.

Representatives of nearly a dozen immigrant and Latino groups spoke in favor of the settlement, but said all sides must be vigilant to make sure the provisions are carried out.

Among them was Joselo Lucero, Marcelo Lucero's brother.

He said the settlement "makes good sense" but it should go further and needs to get to the bottom of other past incidents of violence against minorities.

"It tells us what the Suffolk County Police Department should do in the future, but it doesn't tell us in detail what the police have done or failed to do about hate crimes in the past, Lucero said. "That is what is missing in this report: a sense of responsibility. What happened to those investigations? For those cases that were not investigated then, they must be investigated now."

In an interview, Police Commissioner Edward Webber has said there was no need for further investigation of past incidents. After the Lucero murder, he said the department reviewed all past cases and complaints in the Fifth Precinct to determine if other investigations should be reclassified and pursued further.

During testimony before lawmakers, Webber said the agreement shows the department has a "common goal of working equally to protect all residents of Suffolk County." He noted the Justice Department's "exhaustive investigation . . . made no finding of discriminatory policies" in the department.

Kevin Fallon, Suffolk police spokesman, said 44,838 reports were reviewed and 23 were pursued further but none resulted in charges. He said the department conducted meetings in churches and the local library to see whether there were complaints never reported to the police. Most involved other issues and resulted in no charges, Fallon said.

However, Patrick Young of the Hempstead-based Central American Refugee Center said further investigations are needed because "many people who have engaged in attacks are still walking free and many police officers who turned their backs . . . are still on the force."

Fallon said the department has assigned seven officers to work with minority communities in each precinct. He estimated the department would spend $650,000 next year to pay for the release time so officers can undergo the new training.

Luis Valenzuela of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance called the pact a "pivotal moment," one from which the county and the minority community can build.

With Victor Ramos

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