Nassau police lack transparency, score near bottom of national survey: report

Nassau police lack transparency, score near bottom of national survey: report
The Nassau County Police Department's transparency resulted in a 12 out of 100 from a Vera Institute report. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A 2022 study from the Vera Institute had Nassau County tied for the second-lowest score for police transparency in the United States with a ranking of 12 out of 100.

Nassau County, according to the report from the nonprofit organization aimed at transforming the criminal justice system, scored a 0 in every category except for an 81 in police contact information and a 100 in policies. The areas were judged on their data being “accessible,” “usable,” and “meaningful,” according to the report.

“How data is provided should be determined in consultation with community members, especially those impacted by the criminal legal system, to ensure that data is accessible and useful to the people most affected by policing,” Vera Institute officials said in their general recommendations from the report.

Efforts to reach officials from the Police Department for comment were unavailing.

The Vera Institute, a nonprofit national research organization, analyzed police transparency in 94 cities and counties across the United States. Chicago received the highest score with a 70 and just 21 of the areas scored a 50 or above.

The analyzed areas, according to the report, made up 25% of the entire United States population. The criteria used to measure the overall transparency of police departments was collected by Vera between October 2021 and January 2022, according to the report.

Transparency categories used to score the 94 areas were police misconduct complaints, instances of officers shooting firearms, use of force, arrests, 911 calls, traffic and pedestrian stops, training, crime reports, police contact information and policies.

The results of the study adds fuel to critics’ call for a civilian oversight board to monitor policing in Nassau.

Susan Gottehrer, the director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Blank Slate Media that establishing a community oversight board to monitor policing is a matter of “political will,” but is something that should be established by the Legislature.

“My concern and I think everyone’s concern is that without any oversight, and in Nassau there is zero oversight, there is only Internal Affairs,” Gottehrer said in a phone interview.

Complaints received about the Nassau County Police Department are handled by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, according to Nassau’s police reform plan.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had required police departments across the state to provide reform plans in 2021 following the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis by a police officer.

Complaints are “normally” responded to by the Nassau police department within three business days, according to the department’s website. The investigations are to be completed within 30 days.

Nassau police, from 2016 to 2021, reported zero “founded” cases of false arrest and excessive force. But during that time 30 people won court judgments against county police based on 41 allegations.

For 38 of the allegations, the Nassau County Attorney’s office paid money to settle the cases while also barring the accusers from speaking publicly about the allegations.

The New York City Law Department publishes a semi-annual report on misconduct matters against the police, which includes the names of both parties, a police shield number and total payout amount if applicable.

The Nassau County Police Department reported 187 total complaints from January 2022 to June 2022, according to Nassau’s police reform plan.

Out of the 187 complaints, 67 related to improper procedures, 58 were for unprofessional conduct, six were false arrest, five were racial or ethnic bias, four for excessive force, three were unlawful conduct, another three were from neglect of duty and 41 were “other” complaints.

Fifteen of those allegations were reported as “founded.” Nassau also reported 126 “founded” allegations in 2021 and 101 “founded” allegations in 2020 but did not provide the total number of complaints reported in those years.

Long Island United to Transform Policing & Community Safety, an activist organization that seeks “to transform public safety,” also recommended the establishment of a Civilian Complaint Review Board, along with creating a police inspector general’s office that would “complement the [CCRB] with subpoena power and oversight over all policies, directives, memos and complaints.”

The group’s recommendations were included in a one-year analysis of the Nassau County Police Department’s reform plan.

In 2021 some of Nassau’s Democratic legislators called for New York Attorney General Letitia James to establish a third-party oversight office for the county’s police department.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), Legislator Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Legislator Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) all signed a letter sent in March 2021 after the county Legislature approved a plan to reform and reinvent policing put forward by former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

Efforts to reach those representatives for comment on the matter were unavailing.

James, in a letter sent to the legislators in mid-April, acknowledged the benefits of establishing a remote office  and criticized the county for not including “meaningful checks on law enforcement.”  She also cited the lack of necessary funding to establish a remote oversight office in Nassau.

“Police departments all over the state were handing in police reform plans, and for the attorney general to specifically call out Nassau County is really quite stunning,” Gottehrer said. “And so I think it really goes to how Nassau County is operating.”

New York Civil Liberties Union Supervising Attorney Bobby Hodgson touted the importance of having oversight for policing, such as New York City’s Citizen Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that probes alleged misconduct reported by residents.

The board was established in 1993 by former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and the New York City Council.

“In many instances, the Citizen Complaint Review Board has undertaken an investigation, gathered evidence and found that misconduct occurred and an officer did, in fact, do something inappropriate and recommended levels of discipline all the way up to firing,” Hodgson said in an interview with Blank Slate Media earlier this year.

New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board consists of more than 100 “civilian investigators” who attempt to verify the complaint it receives, according to officials.

A complaint could either be determined to be “substantiated,” meaning that misconduct did occur, or “unsustained,” which means the complaint did not qualify as misconduct, according to officials.

If there is no evidence to prove that the alleged misconduct or incident actually occurred, officials said, the complaint would be deemed as “unfounded.”

Once the analysis of complaints is completed, officials said, three board members will decide whether or not they approve the investigators’ recommended disciplinary actions, according to officials.

Aside from the establishment of civilian oversight, Long Island United to Transform Policing & Community Safety also called for the full disclosure of all police investigations and complaints. Nassau has declined to turn over those records despite the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a in June 2020, which permitted police departments to withhold misconduct and other personnel records.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed an order to show cause against the Nassau County Police Department in March in its ongoing efforts to obtain misconduct and personnel records.

Hodgson said the New York Civil Liberties Union requested access to Nassau’s department disciplinary records, use of force, field interviews, civilian complaints and investigative reports, among others through a Freedom of Information Law request in 2020.

Hodgson said that the police department was ordered by the Nassau County Supreme Court to turn over disciplinary records after June of 2020 within 60 days from the order handed down by the Nassau County Supreme Court on May 2, 2022.

The police department has denied the requests despite the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a in 2020, which permitted police departments from disclosing misconduct and other personnel records.

“Turning these records over is the first necessary step in having any sort of informed public discussion about what police accountability looks like in Nassau County,” Hodgson said. “In a world where these records are secret, the public knows zero about how the police [department] police[s] themselves.”

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