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Editorial: Probe of Suffolk cop took too long to start

A Suffolk police car sits in front of

A Suffolk police car sits in front of the West Babylon home of the family of Peter Figoski, an NYPD officer who died in the line of duty. (Dec. 12, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

In a county that's already under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve the way it interacts with Hispanic residents, complaints that a Suffolk cop is targeting and stealing from them ought to be responded to quickly and taken very seriously.

Sgt. Scott Greene was arrested on Jan. 30 after he was recorded on video taking $100 in cash from an envelope on the front seat of a car driven by a Hispanic undercover agent, according to the Suffolk County district attorney's office. That agency's sting involved nine investigators and two prosecutors, all Spanish speakers, who apprehended Greene within 30 minutes of beginning the sting operation.

The police department's own probe should have moved as quickly. The first victim to be robbed apparently reported Greene to the police about two years ago. The initial complaint from a Hispanic motorist said a cop in a patrol car was preying on drivers of older vehicles who looked Hispanic and who might have been holding cash. There is concern among some top law enforcement officials that a slow response to such complaints from police internal affairs means the Suffolk department is still not making its relationship with the Hispanic community a top priority.

Once word of Greene's arrest spread, at least six more potential victims went to the police and identified him as the culprit. Was there a sense of urgency in responding to the original report? Could subsequent crimes have been prevented?

Late last year the county agreed to several measures meant to cut down on police discrimination against Hispanics. That came after an investigation, spurred by the fatal assault on immigrant Marcel Lucero by seven teens, turned up serious shortcomings in the department's treatment of non-English speakers. The fact that a district attorney's investigation led to Greene's arrest is a positive. But the fact that the police response appears to have been halfhearted is worrisome.