Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he is nominating outgoing NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison to become the next Suffolk police commissioner, making him the first person of color to potentially lead one of the nation’s largest police departments.
Bellone is scheduled to formally announce Harrison as his choice for top cop at a news conference Tuesday in Hauppauge.
"Here is somebody who has had extraordinary success at the highest levels of law enforcement," Bellone said. "If you think about the challenges we face in Suffolk right now, I can’t think of anybody better equipped to come in and help move the ball forward and continue the progress we have made in the police department."
In an interview Monday, Harrison, 52, said he will emphasize officer safety, community relations, accountability and transparency if he becomes Suffolk’s next commissioner.
"I think I will be a great fit for this position," said Harrison, a longtime Baldwin resident. "I think I can make sure the ship is steered in the right direction."
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.
Harrison’s retirement from the NYPD becomes effective on Dec. 30.
Harrison is the only person in the history of the NYPD to rise from the rank of cadet to Chief of Department, police officials said. 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.
Harrison said he will use those investigative skills and experience to bring a new perspective to the Gilgo Beach killings and other unsolved cases as he leads the country's 13th largest police departments.
"I can’t wait to take a look at this case and find out if some mistakes were made and what can we do, working with our federal partners, to make an apprehension, to bring those who committed these crimes to justice," Harrison said.
Harrison’s nomination for Suffolk’s top police job comes after a seven-month search by a committee led by deputy county executives Vanessa Baird-Streeter and Jon Kaiman.
He will be charged with implementing the 1,000-page plan developed earlier by the Suffolk County Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force, which will require most officers to wear body cameras, provide civilian oversight of misconduct complaints and bolster the response to individuals suffering from mental health crises. Under his leadership, the Suffolk Human Rights Commission would also probe complaints about police misconduct and bias.
Harrison will also be charged with reforming a department that has long been criticized for corruption and abuse.
Former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke pleaded guilty in 2016 to violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man he beat up in a police precinct and then orchestrating a departmental cover-up of the crime. Burked served most of his 46-month sentence before he was released.
The department, along with the Nassau County Police Department, has also struggled to recruit minorities.
A Newsday investigation in May reported that Black and Hispanic candidates were eliminated from contention during the hiring process, which includes a physical fitness test and a background investigation, at higher rates than their white counterparts despite decades of monitoring by the U.S. Justice Department.
Newsday found 1,419 Black applicants for the Suffolk department produced only 16 Black cops in the four years after a 2015 test.
The Newsday investigation also showed that Nassau County hired just 36 Black police officers from a pool of 2,508 Black applicants who had taken the 2012 police test. Of 3,389 Hispanic applicants from the same test, 89 were hired.
In March, two officers accused of beating a suspected auto thief were suspended and three more were placed on modified duty for allegedly failing to intervene.
Newsday reported over the weekend that in 2017, a Suffolk police officer falsified records about the treatment of a detained woman who said she was sexually assaulted by the cop’s partner while in custody in a precinct.
Harrison said he hopes to create a culture that compels officers to speak up when their colleagues engage in misconduct, and he said he will work with young people of color to persuade them to consider careers in law enforcement.
"You can’t have public safety without community respect and trust," said Harrison, who was deeply engaged in the NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing program, aimed at strengthening ties between cops and residents.
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.
Hart was the first woman to lead the 2,400-officer police department. Harrison's annual salary will be $220,000, officials said.
Harrison grew up in Jamaica, Queens, the son of a bus driver and a nurse. He said he was inspired to join the NYPD to make a difference after negative experiences with cops.
"Becoming a law-enforcement officer was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made," Harrison said.
Harrison was awarded the NYPD’s Combat Cross for Valor after he and his partner were involved in a shootout with a drug dealer while working undercover in 1995. Harrison was not hit but his partner was injured.
Police blood runs deep in the nominee's family. Harrison’s wife is a retired NYPD lieutenant and two oldest daughters are NYPD officers. His youngest daughter is a student at Wake Forest. He also has a 22-month-old grandson.
"I’m excited. I’m proud to be here today," Harrison. "I’m proud to be the next police commissioner of Suffolk County."