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Legislators reflect on county police reform

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A series of changes that aim to hold police accountable and increase staff diversity are coming to the Nassau County Police Department, including the county’s first-ever use of body-worn cameras.

Last month, the County Legislature adopted the Police Reform and Reinvention Plan in a 16-3 vote. The more than 300-page police reform bill will have police officers undergo 16 hours of implicit bias training and mandates police to issue force reports, bias incidents, hate crime reports and traffic summons on a biannual basis.

To increase community policing and diversity, the bill also includes the creation of diversity teams and mentoring programs for applicants; increased police attendance at community events; additional mental health training for 911 operators; and a two-tier system to mental health response that unites police and the Nassau County Mobile Crisis Team.

Under the bill, the New York State Attorney General’s office has new oversight to investigate police officer misconduct. The bill requires all instances of misconduct be reported to the Attorney General.

Legislator Siela Bynoe, a Democrat from Westbury, one of three legislators of color who voted against the plan, said at a March 22 meeting that the plan lacks accountability “to the extent that there is no third party, no independent review of complaints.”

“I do see some hope with body cameras on the horizon, given the commitment of the county executive and the fact that [Curran is] at the bargaining table with the union, the PBA,” Bynoe said. “I’m happy to see that it’s included in this reform plan. . . But, ultimately, it’s just not enough. It doesn’t go far enough.”

While Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore, disagreed that there’s a systemic problem within Nassau’s police department, he believes the reform bill serves as an opportunity to improve.

Rhoads, chairman of the Minority Affairs and Public Safety Committees, said body cameras are critical to hold officials accountable.

“The ability for the police department and the public to view police interaction with the public on a case-by-case basis is critically important to be able to see if anything improper is happening,” he said. “While there may be an initial reluctance to wearing a camera, and to the level of scrutiny that it brings. . . body cameras present us with an opportunity not to rely on a version [of a story] provided by one side or the other, but to see the situation in real time,” Rhoads said.

Body-worn cameras have not yet been enacted in Nassau. According to the plan, NCPD and the Shared Services Department partnered with consultant RedLand Strategies to implement the Police Body-Worn Camera Program. Officials intend to go out to bid in the coming months and officer training and implementation is expected to begin in late 2021.

The cameras could also serve as a turning point in the conversation about further work that needs to be completed to improve public safety, Rhoads said, and he noted that the reform bill is a “work in progress.”

“Just because we have a plan doesn’t mean we won’t have future conversations about additional reforms or ways to do things that will improve public safety and will better the interactions that our police have with the public,” he said.

Legislator Thomas McKevitt, a Republican from East Meadow, said he, along with the members of the Majority, “remain committed to the safety of the public and the men and women of law enforcement, and all Nassau residents.”

“We will seek opportunities to work with the community, our police unions and the Police Commissioner, to explore new ways in which to enhance safety for everyone in Nassau County,” McKevitt wrote in a statement. “I am looking forward to the implementation of the body camera program, which I believe will benefit both residents and the public safety community.”

According to the reform bill, the Nassau County Police Department, founded in 1925, consists of 2,5000 sworn-in members and 1,215 civilians.

Nassau County Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott did not respond to request for comment.