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MTA watchdog chides agency's police on lack of transparency regarding complaints

The union representing MTA Police officers says that

The union representing MTA Police officers says that any measures to address police misconduct must include effort to train cops on the rules. Credit: Charles Eckert

The Long Island Rail Road’s police force should be more transparent with the public about the potential consequences for cops who break the rules, according to a new report by the MTA’s internal watchdog.

The union representing MTA Police officers says that any measures to address police misconduct must include efforts to train cops on the rules, and not just spell out how they should be punished for breaking them.

The report issued Wednesday by the Office of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny makes several recommendations on how the MTA Police Department could improve the way it receives, investigates and reports on complaints about officer behavior from the public, including LIRR riders.

"Transparency and accountability are vital to building and maintaining public trust — especially when it comes to handling complaints of possible police misconduct," Pokorny said. "The reforms outlined in our report will benefit our riders and taxpayers, as well as our uniformed officers and all of MTA."

In a statement, MTA spokesman Michael Cortez said the agency’s police department "continuously seeks to improve transparency and build upon existing relationships with the communities we serve."

"MTA PD appreciates the Inspector General’s recommendations and is working to streamline accountability processes within the coming year," Cortez said.

Among other criticisms, the report chided the MTA Police for not having a public document outlining the steps it takes in following up on a complaint about officer misconduct.

"It also does not share with the public or the MTA Board summary information about the complaints it has received, whether the allegations were substantiated, and what disciplinary actions or corrective measures were taken," the report said.

Pokorny’s office recommended that MTA Police "develop and publicize a matrix outlining possible corrective actions and disciplinary protocols" to address substantiated complaints of police misconduct.

In its formal response to the report, the MTA Police Department said that while it agreed with the "spirit of the recommendation," it was constrained by collective bargaining agreements in "making changes to the process."

MTA Police Benevolent Association president Michael O’Meara said the police union is "absolutely willing to work with" management to develop more specific disciplinary measures for misconduct charges. But, he said, they must be accompanied by enhanced training for officers to familiarize them with the standards.

"It has to be a two-way street. You can’t just develop punitive things to punish an officer, and not develop training standards and different levels of training and funding to go with it," O’Meara said.

Created in 1998 from the consolidation of separate police forces patrolling the LIRR and Metro-North Railroad, the MTA Police Department includes more than 900 police officers patrolling commuter rail facilities, including LIRR trains and stations.

In a three-year period examined by the MTA Inspector General, from 2017 to 2020, the MTA Police Department’s internal affairs bureau received 155 complaints about officers’ behavior, or about four per month, according to the report.

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