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SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart to lawmakers: Dept. has embraced reform

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart  Credit: Barry Sloan

The Suffolk County Police Department has “embraced reform" and stepped up efforts to enhance officer accountability and diversity, Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Thursday, as thousands nationwide continue to protest police brutality.

Officials are collecting traffic stop data to ensure people of color are not disproportionately stopped and reviewing how officers use a translation service when interacting with non-English speakers, among other initiatives, Hart told the Suffolk Legislature. Police are also planning to send monthly surveys to residents about their interactions with the department as officials emphasize community engagement. 

But these reform efforts come as officers face a “great deal of hostility,” Hart said, citing injuries to six officers in three incidents this past weekend. Three were injured responding to a report of a man with a gun.  Another was hospitalized with a concussion after trying to break up a fight. And two others sustained leg injuries when someone fleeing frrom them hit them with a vehicle.

“We know we can do better. If there’s a department that thinks they can’t, they’re not paying attention,” Hart said. “We can do better and we will do better. But it is also important for the public to understand what we’ve done to move in the direction of a fair and equitable department.”

Hart spoke in wide-ranging testimony before the legislature’s Public Safety Committee Thursday as lawmakers sought crime data at a time when shootings in New York City have spiked sharply.

Suffolk’s crime rates are the lowest on record, Hart said. Violent crime dropped 11.8% and property crimes dropped 2.1% so far this year, compared with the same time period in 2019. Fatal shooting levels have not changed, but nonfatal ones have ticked up slightly, from 27 last year to 33.

Hart’s testimony came as people were protesting the death of a Black man, Daniel Prude, while restrained in police custody in Rochester, New York, and the shooting of another Black man, Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just months after the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“What's resounding in all those areas is that people who look like me don’t feel safe,” said Legis. Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), who is Black. “People feel they’re not justly protected.”

Hart said Suffolk officers undergo 600 more hours of training than required by the state and that the county's implicit bias training has become a national model. She said the department has also reformed hiring and recruitment practices as officials seek to diversify ranks, with 71% of sworn officers being white men, according to police data.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are “not competing” since all people should be protected.

“The chances of me losing my life shouldn’t be higher than perhaps a small white woman who might be a soccer mom,” said Spencer, who is Black and who has estimated he’s been pulled over 50 times. “My interaction with law enforcement has to yield the same result.”

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