Advocates claim Suffolk hasn't delivered on police reform. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday; File Footage

Suffolk County officials and police have failed to adequately make many of the changes outlined in a 1,000-page reform plan adopted in 2021, according to civil rights advocates, who said at a news conference Thursday that minority communities continue to be victimized by inequitable policing.

The police accountability advocates called the news conference at the Hempstead offices of civil rights attorney Fred Brewington to push back on statements by outgoing County Executive Steve Bellone, who said on Monday that the reform plan approved by the Suffolk legislature “delivered landmark initiatives that focus on transparency, modernizing and professionalizing our police department.”

“This press conference is called with a very specific purpose. It is to set the record straight,” Brewington said. “It is to make sure the people of Long Island, and particularly Suffolk County, know that with regards to the issue of policing, all is not well in Suffolk County.”

Police accountability activists said the department still fails to adequately investigate and discipline officers accused of misconduct and that extreme racial disparities in traffic stops continue. Data about traffic stops has not been shared with advocates or the Suffolk legislature, they said.

      WHAT TO KNOW

  • Suffolk County officials and police have failed to adequately make many of the changes outlined in a 1,000-page reform plan adopted in 2021, according to civil rights advocates.
  • The advocates say minority communities have continued to be victimized by inequitable policing.
  • Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had said on Monday that the reform plan approved by the Suffolk legislature “delivered landmark initiatives that focus on transparency, modernizing and professionalizing our police department.”

Crime victims who are not proficient in English, particularly domestic violence victims, report that they are retraumatized by officers due to inadequate translation services, the advocates said, and the department’s response to mental health crises is still inadequate.

“It is imperative that County Executive-elect (Ed) Romaine have the facts on what was thoroughly implemented with the police reform plan and what still needs his support,” said NAACP Long Island regional director Tracey Edwards, who served on the task force that drew up the reform plan.

A spokeswoman for Bellone referred questions about the Thursday news conference to comments made by the county executive Monday. Romaine could not be reached for comment. A spokesman said the Suffolk County police department had no comment. 

Brewington said the vast majority of civilian complaints against officers are ruled unsubstantiated or exonerated.

“The public can’t be wrong that many times, but Mr. Bellone didn’t talk about that,” he said.

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered law-enforcement agencies statewide to submit reform plans for passage by local lawmakers or risk losing state funds following the 2020 murder of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police, a death that sparked months of nationwide protests over police violence.

The county legislature approved the Suffolk County Police Reform and Reinvention Plan in 2021. The reform plan was developed by a 37-member task force appointed by Bellone that included law-enforcement officials, police union representatives, lawmakers, civil rights advocates and religious leaders.

At a news conference on Monday in Hauppauge announcing the launch of Precinct Level Advisory Boards that will serve as liaisons between communities and police precincts, Bellone said the department has implemented all of the major reforms detailed in the plan. Bellone, whose 12 years as county executive ends on Jan. 1, said the reform plan provided a foundation for the county’s efforts to promote equitable policing.

Bellone said the department has provided body cameras to more than 1,600 sworn officers as called for in the reform plan, and that the department’s mental health unit grew from two officers to four plus a supervisor. A telehealth program that allows police in the field to confer with mental health specialists has referred about 400 people to services since last year. The result has been an 84% drop in hospital transports.

But Terryl Dozier of Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety said the department’s response to mental health emergencies remains inadequate.

“The reality is that unit only consists of four officers,” Dozier said. “Therefore, the vast majority of mental health emergencies are currently falling through the cracks and met with the status quo of a force-first response.”

Dozier said only 5% of the subjects of the 7,600 mental health calls received by Suffolk police between January and September received services.

“My question is, Suffolk County, what is the five-year plan to scale these innovations?” Dozier asked. “How you will insure that every community member facing a mental health emergency will be first met with the care that they need? Or is this a dog and pony show meant to silence the critics?”

A 2014 agreement between Suffolk police and the U.S. Justice Department following allegations of unfair policing by Latino residents required the department to collect an analyze racial disparities in traffic stops.

But the department has not released raw data about pedestrian and bicycle stops and has not submitted analyses of traffic-stop data, according to Peggy Fort of United for Justice in Policing Long Island.

Behind those traffic stops, Fort said, are victims who are often traumatized by their interactions with police.

“They live with that trauma, young drivers in Suffolk County, Black and brown drivers … live with pressure, trauma, anxiety and mistrust of police for most of their lives,” Fort said.


 

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