The federal Justice Department said Thursday the Suffolk police department...

The federal Justice Department said Thursday the Suffolk police department has achieved "sustained compliance" with a consent decree on its treatment of Latinos. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The Department of Justice is terminating its monitoring of the Suffolk County Police Department in key provisions of a settlement agreement over allegations of discriminatory policing of Latinos, the federal agency announced Thursday, finding the county has made substantial reforms 10 years after the federal oversight began.

The Justice Department, in a statement released late Thursday, said its own independent reviews concluded that the Yaphank-based law enforcement agency has complied with several of the agency's demands, including providing annual training to officers on how to investigate and charge hate crimes, implementing a mapping system to track and analyze hate crimes and accepting complaints alleging bias by police from members of the public.

The police department “achieved sustained compliance with provisions of its settlement agreement,” the justice department said in a statement Thursday announcing the end of its oversight in those areas.

“The County and its Police Department have made significant progress towards ensuring that all Suffolk County residents benefit from constitutional policing,” Justice Department official Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

   WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Department of Justice is terminating its monitoring of the Suffolk County Police Department in key provisions of its settlement over what it said was discriminatory policing of Latinos after finding the agency has made substantial reforms 10 years after the federal oversight began.
  • The Justice department concluded that the 2,400 member Yaphank-based law enforcement agency has complied with several of its demands, including providing annual training on investigating and charging hate crimes.
  • The federal monitoring began in January 2014, in response to complaints from advocates following the November 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, who was fatally beaten by a group of teenagers in Patchogue.

“The Police Department has improved the tracking of hate crimes, is strengthening the handling of internal affairs investigations and has improved the way it handles complaints of discriminatory policing. This progress demonstrates that meaningful policing reform and change can be achieved through our work,” Clarke said.”

Federal officials noted there is still more work to do, although the announcement did not specify in which areas.

Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, which includes Long Island and Brooklyn, said in a statement: “By terminating the areas of the agreement where reform efforts have been successful, we can focus on the areas that require additional attention. We look forward to working together to help the Suffolk County Police Department successfully achieve the reforms required by the remaining areas of the agreement.”

Hempstead attorney Frederick K. Brewington said he and other Long Island civil rights advocates were in a meeting with Department of Justice officials when officials announced that it was releasing Suffolk police from portions of the settlement agreement.

“We are severely disappointed that the Justice Department chose to release Suffolk from its obligations under the three subject areas,” Brewington said.

Serena Liguori, a member of the task force that drafted Suffolk’s police reform plan, said she fears lack of federal oversight over hate crime reporting might mean that police become lax when it comes to investigating hate crimes. 

“Without oversight, how do you assure that this won't happen again?” Liguori asked, referring to the killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in November, 2008. “I wish we would err on the side of safety.”

Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine, in a statement prepared jointly with the police department, said: “I am proud the DOJ has recognized the tremendous efforts of our police department and the rank and file cops who are committed to keeping Suffolk safe with integrity and transparency. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the justice department, and I am confident that under the SCPD leadership, we will soon be deemed in complete compliance. "

Lou Civello, president of the Suffolk PBA, said in a statement: “Today's announcement by the United States Justice Department demonstrates how committed we are to ensuring transparency, fairness and accountability in the SCPD.”

Former Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who presided over the department during much of the monitoring by the federal government, said in a statement: “The department worked closely with our communities and the DOJ to ensure we are in full compliance with the goals outlined in the agreement which make our communities safer and our partnership with the residents of Suffolk County stronger.”

The federal monitoring of the police department began in January 2014, in response to complaints from advocates following Lucero's  killing by a group of teenagers in Patchogue. The settlement agreement said the federal monitoring was supposed to last three years, but it continued because the police department had failed to make necessary reforms.

In a 2018 progress report, the police department marked a critical benchmark: For the first time, it was found to be in “substantial compliance” in any of the major categories being tracked: bias-free policing, hate crimes and hate incidents, language assistance, allegations of police misconduct, and community engagement.

That year, in the areas of hate crimes, hate incidents and allegations of police misconduct, the department reached substantial compliance — the highest ranking. But the police department was only in “partial compliance” in the other categories. The report also noted there remains “a persistent mistrust” between the community and the police.

In 2016, Suffolk police sergeant Scott Greene was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison after being convicted of felony larceny and other charges for pulling over more than two dozen Latino motorists in the Farmingville area and shaking them down for cash. Greene was arrested in March 2014 arrest. He was acquitted by a jury of more serious charges of grand larceny as a hate crime, which many advocates decried as a failure of the justice system.

Suffolk police have long been monitored by the Justice Department. The police department also signed a consent decree with the Justice department in 1986 after the agency filed a class-action lawsuit in 1983 charging that the county engaged in a pattern of discrimination against minorities. In Nassau County, the department filed suit in 1977, charging the county discriminated against black, Hispanic and female candidates. The Nassau consent decree has been in effect since 1983.

The Justice department, in its Thursday statement, cited several areas in which the Suffolk police had shown “sustained improvement” that warranted the end of its monitoring.

The department said the police department now tracks civilian complaints and internal investigations by the nature of the allegation, the status of the investigation and how it resolved the investigation, allowing the police department to “evaluate trends and identify patterns of problematic behavior” and provides its policies in Spanish on its website.

The department also allows the public to submit complaints alleging bias to any part of the police department — the hate crimes unit, internal affairs, any officer and any precinct, the DOJ said.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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