Port Washington Police Commissioner Brian Staley is running for re-election to continue enacting change in Port’s Police Department, advocating for community policing and pushing to overcome shortfalls in policing.
Staley, who was elected in 2020 and is seeking his second term as Port’s first Black police commissioner, is being challenged by retired Nassau County Police Chief Sean McCarthy.
He serves on the board alongside two other commissioners – Angela Lawlor Mullins and JB Meyer – but said he is the only one to have been a prior member of the Port Washington Police Department.
Staley, 73, began his career in 1982 as a foot patrol officer for the Port Washington Police Department, rising up through the ranks to his final post of deputy chief when he retired in 2014.
With more than 30 years working with the Port Washington Police Department, Staley said he has come to learn all the ins and outs of the community after spending more than half of his life living in Port.
“I know this town,” Staley said.
He said being a Black officer was difficult, experiencing racism in the department that made it unpleasant at times. He sued the Police Department in the early 1990s alleging that he was denied promotion due to his race.
“I could have always quit the job because I know they’re not treating me fairly,” Staley said. “I could have quit, but I could have fought. I chose to stay and fight.”
He recounted an interaction he had with activist Hazel Dukes when she was being honored by the Economic Opportunity Commission, an organization he is a part of. She said that while she hopes younger people continue enacting change, she is still fighting in her 90s and said others in the fight with her cannot say they are too tired to continue fighting.
Staley, who is in his 70s, said Dukes’ speech inspired him to stay involved in the community and work to better policing.
“If I wasn’t in the position I was in and being able to manipulate the system because I know it, I think about ‘well what would it be like for other people who don’t have a title or they don’t have someone they can call to help them out?” Staley said. “What would it be like for them?”
He said he is an advocate for community policing, saying that community relations with the police are crucial to helping individuals and changing their lives.
“That’s their real job,” Staley said.
He said his main concern is the safety of the community, with his daughter and grandson growing up in Port and much of his family living in the area.
Staley said police departments nationally are behind in their thinking and need to rethink their policing methods in communities. This does not exclude Port Washington.
“As well as we are policed, we are behind the times in terms of policing,” Staley said.
He said there is no national standard of policing, making it difficult for individuals to understand the methods of policing in different areas. He said this is what can lead to tragedies enacted by the police, which are “not reflective of an honorable profession.”
“But you’re going to get that story of that rogue cop that has the authority that steps over the line,” Staley said. “But I know it’s going to happen because there’s no training, or no new training, on how we shoot.”
He said that Port Washington police officers are mandated to attend two trainings a year to qualify to carry a gun. However, he said that training on how to address calls concerning individuals with mental illnesses, homeless people or domestic violence are not required despite being offered.
“But you are required to learn how to shoot somebody, not kill them, stop them, twice a year. It’s mandatory,” Staley said. “So why isn’t it mandatory when we see how conflicted the world is right now?”
He said an integral aspect of updating policing is training in community-based issues and working with community and police organizations.
“And you cannot police without community input,” Staley said.
He said he ran for police commissioner in 2020 not because he’s a politician, but rather because he’s a professional who is dedicated to his community.
Staley said that in the three years he has served as commissioner, the board has achieved more than what was done in the 20 years prior.
One such accomplishment was his assistance on the board to settle a union contract that had previously not been settled in the 20 years prior without arbitration, diminishing the burden on the taxpayer by excluding attorney fees.
Staley said he and the board members sat down with union representatives to “hammer out the detail of the contract,” something the previous board hadn’t done.
He had previously sat on the union’s board, giving him perspective on the handling of both sides of the contract negotiation.
“I am never ever just going to think about the safety of the community without thinking about the safety of the officers that work there,” Staley said. “They are of equal concern to me not sometimes, all the time.”
He said that in tandem with his support of community policing, he will also always support his officers.
“I’m always going to be for the officers that work here in the trenches every day, risk their lives for people that they don’t know and want to go home,” Staley said. “You expect to go home every night to your family and these guys that are out here, they try to make sure that happens for you and they don’t even know you. So I who know them want to make sure they go home to their families, come back, do it again for you.”
He also said he has been able to promote individuals in the department that he found deserving yet had opportunities slashed by nepotism and department politics.
One issue Staley said he is working to push forward on the establishment of a new police headquarters to meet the growth the department has had in the past decades and the growth it continues to need.
He said he is moving forward with the recent purchase and plans, but said he will continue to question the expenses of a new headquarters as the expense falls upon the taxpayer.
Staley said that he remains committed to his community and community policing to enact necessary change, working for the people who may not have the power to do so.
“I have more power to try and keep somebody out of a broken judicial system than to put them in it,” Staley said. “It’s easier to get in, it’s hard to get out. I’ve always operated like that.”
He said that his service on the board is not in the pursuit of a higher office or even to be on the board for a prolonged period, but rather to simply make the community better.
“What really matters is that you make your part of the world the best that you can,” Staley said.