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Editorial: Banged-up Nassau police need a new direction

Banged-up Nassau police need a new direction.

Banged-up Nassau police need a new direction. Credit: Illustration by Janet Hamlin

The Nassau County Police Department has gone from poorly steered to rudderless. It needs a tough new commissioner brought in from outside, and quickly.

With so much attention given to lifting the wage freeze to improve the morale of the police department, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano seems to have forgotten his promise to bring in much-needed new leadership.

That's a problem. The department's arrogant culture, its suspect supervision under recently ousted Commissioner Thomas Dale, the intrusion of patronage and politics, and the conduct of many officers have been called into question over the past few years.

Nothing is getting any better, and no one is in a hurry to address the failings. Nassau officers need a tough outsider, someone with a fresh perspective and a reputation that commands respect, to tackle the ingrained problems.

When Mangano reluctantly forced Dale out in December, he promised a national search for a highly qualified disciplinarian, and said the hire must come from outside the department. That still makes sense in light of the behavior coming from inside the department:

Dale had to resign after he had a young man pulled off a county bus and arrested at the behest of Gary Melius, a powerful friend who was helping Mangano's re-election campaign and had recommended Dale to Mangano.

Three high-ranking cops were convicted of abusing their positions to keep a police benefactor's son out of jail.

Officer Michael Tedesco lost his job and pleaded guilty to 75 misdemeanor counts of official misconduct after he was accused of spending at least 80 shifts dallying with mistresses while he was supposed to be on the beat.

Officer Anthony DiLeonardo was drunk and off-duty when he shot an unarmed cabbie in 2011. Just as toxic was the county Deadly Force Response Team's conclusion, drawn within 24 hours, that the shooting was justified, the same conclusion it reached in 46 consecutive cases since 2006. It took three years to get DiLeonardo fired. Another officer, who lied to protect DiLeonardo, according to an internal affairs report, is still on the job.

Two Nassau officers are accused of beating a 20-year-old man, Kyle Howell, during a traffic stop that was captured on a store video camera in April. The video shows the officers repeatedly striking Howell. He says the cops left him with a broken nose, fractures near both eyes, facial nerve damage and emotional scars. The officers allege in criminal complaints that Howell kicked and punched them after they tried to retrieve marijuana he'd put in his mouth. An investigation is continuing.

Mangano says he is not actively searching for a new commissioner, at least partly because Acting Commissioner Thomas Krumpter is the right man to oversee ending the wage freeze, and the changing work rules and mass retirements underway. Krumpter, homegrown and deeply knowledgeable about the department, is the right person to handle those challenges. But he is not the right leader to change the department's noxious culture.

Police Executive Research Forum, a company chosen to analyze and improve departmental training, oversight and culture, could have its contract approved by the county legislature tomorrow, but 13 proposals for this task were received in January. And Mangano says the company would study the department for 18 months before new training begins.

That's too long. The delays do a disservice to residents, who deserve a better department. The foot-dragging also does a disservice to Nassau officers. Most are dedicated, honest and competent, and these officers deserve to see the department's weak spots shored up.

With 140 recruits sworn in this month and another class expected in July, the department is being restocked with cops who haven't learned any wrong lessons yet. Now is the time to find the right leader, in the hope that they never do.