Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder was sworn in on Monday, inheriting deeply frayed relations between Nassau County police and the immigrant communities officers serve, as well as corrosive anti-immigrant rhetoric in our area. In his early days, he should make clear the department works for everyone in Nassau County.
Immigrants in our community have come to view Nassau police as an extension of federal immigration and deportation forces — and with good reason. The department has collaborated with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, honoring detainer requests to hold people who pass through the county jail until ICE agents can retrieve them. The department has been willing to hold people even when there isn’t a federal judicial warrant that would establish probable cause for arrest.
Not only is the department not required to abide such requests from ICE officials, but New York law only authorizes local officers to perform certain duties, and enforcing immigration law is not one of them. Worse yet, this practice undermines trust between immigrants and law enforcement. Many have to wonder whether reporting a crime, asking for help or cooperating with Nassau police could result in the involvement of ICE, and the detention and deportation of friends or family.
When community trust with law enforcement breaks down, it hampers police work and makes our area less safe. The New York Civil Liberties Union made County Executive Laura Curran, District Attorney Madeline Singas and Ryder aware of this. Seventy-one percent of law enforcement respondents to a recent national survey by American University said that because immigrants face barriers to engaging with law enforcement, officers were less able to hold criminals accountable.
While that trust is affected by the policies and practices of the department itself, it is also eroded by our political discourse, particularly on immigration. President Donald Trump has pursued an agenda that exploits the gang problem on Long Island to vilify members of our community and push a deportation dragnet, which in turn have frightened immigrants regardless of status.
Local officials have taken the cue, too. Ryder got a sense of this at his confirmation hearing when Legis. Richard Nicolello, the presiding officer, praised police cooperation with ICE. The room erupted in applause, even though this cooperation leads to the breakup, roundup and deportation of families who pose no threat.
Local advocates have told me that calls to the Nassau district attorney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs hotline have dropped since Trump took office. I have heard from parents who express fear about sending their children to school because of dubious gang-member identification practices by police. There’s good reason for that, too. The NYCLU and American Civil Liberties Union have sued federal officials for unlawfully detaining immigrant youth, many of whom were suspended from Long Island schools on flimsy allegations of gang involvement.
It does not have to be this way. Ryder can chart a new course and forge a new relationship with Nassau’s immigrants.
He can end the practice of honoring ICE detainer requests; stand up against rhetoric by local officials that falsely equates immigrants with criminals; ensure school safety issues do not trigger ICE involvement; guarantee language access by making interpreters readily available throughout all contact with law enforcement, and by translating vital documents on the department’s website and at precincts; and make immigrant community leaders members of the community groups he vowed to create to foster dialogue and increase trust between police and those the people serve.
If he changes course, he will send the message that all Nassau residents can trust the police.
Susan Gottehrer is director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.