Suffolk Police Commissioner Harrison suspends union delegate, law enforcement sources say
This story was reported by Michael O'Keeffe, Sandra Peddie and David M. Schwartz. It was written by O'Keeffe and Peddie.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison has suspended a police union delegate for intervening in the disciplinary case of another cop, law-enforcement sources told Newsday, a decision described as unusually tough by law enforcement and labor experts.
The move prompted an unidentified member of Suffolk’s powerful Police Benevolent Association to post a widely shared message, obtained by Newsday, that criticized Harrison and vowed to fight “arbitrary discipline.”
Three law enforcement sources told Newsday the suspended delegate is Officer Edward Rose, a 26-year veteran of the department who works in the Third Precinct.
Retired Suffolk Police Inspector Michael Caldarelli, commanding officer of the Internal Affairs Bureau from 2012 to 2014 who retired in 2017 after 31 years in the department, said the suspension “would suggest to me that Commissioner Harrison had a disciplinary policy that’s perhaps more stringent than we have seen in the past.”
Brian Davis, a Garden City attorney who has represented the Nassau Police Superior Officers Association for the past 20 years, said: “In my experience, this is extraordinary. It’s very, very rare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.”
“Union delegates have been given over the years a lot of leeway,” he said. “If there’s a problem with a member, it’s assumed that the delegate can go and represent that member.”
Under Suffolk police policy, the police commissioner can suspend a cop up to 30 days before the case goes to arbitration, and an individual can be suspended or reinstated at any time during the process.
As a union delegate, Rose is responsible for making sure contract rules are enforced and is tasked with representing other officers who have been accused of misconduct. Delegates are also entrusted to disseminate PBA communications with the membership.
Rose did not return telephone calls.
In the message aimed at PBA members, the unidentified union member wrote: “The new Administration has set a clear tone. The PBA will be preparing to make it crystal clear that arbitrary discipline will not be accepted lying down. We have fought much worse battles and we know the play book much better than this administration. We may be facing a rough and punitive road, but we will protect the members and prevail over time.”
The message concluded, "Lastly, they waited 4 months to suspend this delegate, and it clearly came down from Rodney. It appears all of what we are seeing goes directly through him. So buckle down, be 100% squared away and prepare for the worst as suspension seems to be the current preferred reaction to any accusations of misconduct. So think twice before doing anything that could lead to a bad situation that could easily have been avoided.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone declined to answer questions about the suspension, except to say, "This commissioner is committed to transparency and accountability."
Harrison, who spent 30 years in the NYPD, was chief of department before Bellone appointed him to the top job in Suffolk in December. He declined to comment.
PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said the message was not authorized by the union’s executive board. The union represents 1,700 patrol officers in Suffolk. Newsday reported last year it contributed millions of dollars to campaigns, according to records and political financing experts.
"It is not a message or statement from the organization," DiGerolamo told Newsday.
He said the union has a good working relationship with Harrison.
“A new administration coming in with its own ideas and management style is nothing new for the SCPD or the SCPBA,” DiGerolamo said. "We enjoy an excellent relationship with the new commissioner, and I frequently communicate with him. As with any union/management dynamic, we do not agree on every issue, however, I'm confident as disagreements arise they will be fairly negotiated and settled amicably."
Tracey Edwards, Long Island regional director of the NAACP, who served on advisory panels on police reform in Nassau and Suffolk said, “Every administration should set a new tone, and Commissioner Harrison is setting one of professionalism, accountability and public safety for the community and law enforcement.”
State payroll records show Rose made $187,455 in 2020.
When asked about the suspension, the Suffolk police spokesman said: “When an incident of potential misconduct occurs, an internal affairs investigation is opened immediately. However, we do not comment on IA investigations that have not yet concluded.”
Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York Police Department officer who is a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said, “For management, it’s a pretty severe step.”
He added, “You don’t have immunity because you are a PBA delegate, but you do have more protections.”
Wayne Schaefer, a Smithtown labor and employment attorney who has handled police disciplinary cases in New York City and on Long Island, said Harrison’s approach to discipline was likely shaped by his years with the NYPD, where discipline is usually handled through formal proceedings, rather than through negotiations with police unions.
“It’s a much more impersonal process, for better or for worse, in the city,” Schaefer said.
Harrison, Schaefer said, appeared to be trying to send a message to officers. “Whether it is a problem that is real or imagined, it appears that they are determined to telegraph to the membership that they are going to take a hard line in these cases,” he said.