Newsday's investigations team has been investigating a series of appalling case...

Newsday's investigations team has been investigating a series of appalling case histories where some officers in both Nassau and Suffolk escaped all or most punishment. Credit: James Carbone

The refusal of a police department to properly discipline officers for minor offenses creates a major problem: It enables misbehavior that can worsen over time, sometimes leading to serious wrongdoing and taxpayers being put on the hook for payouts for official misconduct.

That's the conclusion to be drawn from the disciplinary records of multiple Suffolk County police officers who had come under scrutiny for a prominent incident that violated the law or the department's rules, according to records obtained by Newsday's editorial board via Freedom of Information Law requests.

  • One officer’s disciplinary record includes complaints that he was "rude, arrogant, unprofessional" on a house visit, and so careless on a car stop that another officer said it was "the laziest thing I’ve ever seen that guy do" — before criminal charges for an incident in which a civilian said the officer suggested he could "possibly work out a deal with him" on a speeding summons if the civilian could provide "a good deal on a patio."
  • Another officer’s records say he lied to a superior officer conducting an investigation into a civilian complaint, was intoxicated and created a disturbance while off duty within a Stony Brook bar, and, as an Internal Affairs Bureau report surmised, allowed an intoxicated friend "to actually carry and display his loaded police firearm" — before the department moved to dismiss him for falsely reporting a crime of stolen memorandum books. He retired soon after and later went to work in the Suffolk district attorney's office for nearly five years until resigning in 2016.
  • A third officer bungled a burglary probe that an investigator called "replete with incompetence" and covered up his bungling from superiors. He once asked a school security guard for permission to fire his weapon at night on school grounds, and when refused, did so nearby. Later, an IAB report concluded there was "overwhelming evidence" he solicited prostitutes while on duty.
  • A fourth officer repeatedly harassed his ex-fiance, attempting to stop her vehicle while on duty in a marked police unit, allegedly using physical force against her, and issuing her fake "summonses" that included the words "this is only a joke but it could have been the real thing. Don’t get cocky!" — before being party to two excessive force lawsuits, one of which resulted in a multimillion-dollar payout by the county.


These narratives about now-former officers are drawn from the interviews, memos, documents, and conclusions of Internal Affairs Bureau investigations where misconduct was substantiated. Obtaining such records would have been largely futile before 2020, but after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, New York State repealed a law that shielded police disciplinary records. Amid hundreds of pages of internal reports involving 13 officers, significant patterns of escalating wrongdoing were found. The officers are not being identified because our primary focus in this editorial is to advocate for a change in disciplinary policy.

We found that punishment for the non-career-ending misconduct was minimal: counseling, probation, lost vacation days. The officer who harassed his ex-fiance forfeited four vacation days for the behavior.

Newsday has filed court actions in support of more disclosure in Suffolk and in Nassau, whose police department has released almost no information of this kind, including the limited records we received from Suffolk. That’s unacceptable.

A department’s refusal to deter misbehavior — a rejection of the broken-windows theory of policing that the failure to control minor offenses begets public disorder and crime — can create a breeding ground for wrongdoing that results in serious injuries or fatalities. Newsday’s investigations team has been probing a series of appalling case histories where some officers in both Nassau and Suffolk escaped all or most punishment.


It also fosters the culture of impunity on full view in the disciplinary records.

A section from Internal Affairs Bureau Records for an officer...

A section from Internal Affairs Bureau Records for an officer accused of misconduct. Credit: Newsday

"[W]hat’s the problem?" asked the officer who wanted to shoot off his gun near a school, according to a responding officer. "I’m on the job and if this were the 1st precinct this would be swept under the rug." The officer who caused a scene in the Stony Brook bar was told as part of an IAB investigation that "the attitude he displayed in his short career seemed to indicate that he felt he could do anything he wanted because he had a badge and a gun."

Suffolk has made strides to improve its internal affairs operation, reducing its case backlog and improving communications with complainants, as charted by recent Justice Department assessment reports. New commissioner Rodney Harrison has created a "risk management section" to monitor and improve officer performance with a "data-driven" approach.

But there is much to change. The department's early warning system to detect bad behavior should be strengthened. Officers struggling with substance abuse need help, and those engaged in "bizarre violence" including gun shenanigans need to face consequences. The department should develop a disciplinary matrix setting standard penalties for misconduct.

"I’m on the job" can’t mean "the law doesn’t apply to me."

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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