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Patrick Ryder needs to keep Nassau County police above politics

Patrick Ryder is confirmed by the Nassau Legislature

Patrick Ryder is confirmed by the Nassau Legislature and sworn in as Nassau County police commissioner by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Bolstered by a wave of support from the community, members of the police force at all levels and politicians from both parties, Patrick Ryder had no trouble earning confirmation as Nassau County’s police commissioner Monday.

Before a vote by the county legislature, Ryder briefly addressed two issues: a dormant security-consulting side business that he said he will dissolve and an allegation of sexual harassment reported in a letter sent to legislators. County Executive Laura Curran’s administration said the accusation was investigated thoroughly and found to be baseless.

That’s important, because this department must run scandal-free.

Ryder is the first person to hold the official title since Thomas Dale was forced to resign in 2013 after he directed officers to arrest a witness in a politically charged election-year case stemming from a scheme to ensure then-County Executive Edward Mangano’s re-election. Dale’s successor, Thomas Krumpter, served with the title of acting commissioner until announcing his retirement last year.

Also in 2013, three high-ranking Nassau County police officials were convicted after they tried to prevent the arrest of a burglary suspect, then a high school senior, as a favor to his father, a donor to police causes. Two pleaded guilty to corruption and another, Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan, was convicted at trial of conspiracy and two counts of official misconduct and served time in jail.

Ryder, deputy commissioner for the past year, has been instrumental in the department’s success. For eight years, Ryder headed the county’s Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence Unit. Ryder revamped Nassau’s approach to intelligence-led policing and data-driven crime prevention, credited with much of the department’s success.

Morale among officers, damaged by a multiyear pay freeze that ended in 2014, has rebounded. And the elevation of Ryder, considered a “cop’s cop,” will help even further. But Ryder does face challenges.

While violent crime is at a decades-long low, Nassau struggles with pockets of gang violence and must combat opioid addiction and crimes related to it countywide. The annual cost of the 2,500-officer department is nearing $1 billion; overtime alone was $52 million in 2017. But Nassau is broke, and Curran has said she will resist a tax hike. Fee hikes Nassau implemented to raise revenue are being challenged in court, and the county’s contracts with its police unions expired on Dec. 31.

Ryder can’t simply dictate to the unions, because they can choose to work without a contract, a document the county doesn’t even have a full copy of. But the unions can’t push too hard, either, lest the Nassau Interim Finance Authority freeze county employees’ wages. Ryder needs to make deals that pay cops fairly for a fair day’s work but eliminate expensive rules and egregious sick and vacation compensation.

As he takes on those tasks, Ryder must continue improving community policing and building a department that respects and works with the diverse people of the county. And, he needs to stay above the political fray, which has been a challenge for others in that post.