The debate to improve Nassau County residents’ relationship with the police department is on. A month full of tense protests in the name of equality has sparked a potential change for the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) that could increase transparency and help identify commonalities from citizens’ complaints against the department.
Nassau County Legislators Siela Bynoe and Kevan Abrahams, who is the minority leader in the Nassau County Legislature, recently penned a bill to create a 24-hour hotline specifically designated for complaints against the NCPD. The two legislators also proposed an adjacent website, which will help increase the speed of complaints.
“By establishing this accessible, transparent and user-friendly process for filing police misconduct allegations, Nassau County can better protect the rights of its citizens and further equip our law enforcement professionals to uphold the highest standards of conduct and discipline,” Abrahams said. “Establishing these new lines of communication will create opportunities for identifying, investigating and resolving allegations of excessive use of force and other misconduct.”
The goal of the hotline and website is not to further tensions between the public and the police, but rather to advance transparency and provide the department valuable data. The hotline will also provide complainants with the name and contact information of the NCPD investigator that is working on the reported case within five days of the initial filing. The investigator will then have to provide updates to the person or group of people who filed the original complaint.
“It will definitely improve police-community relations,” Bynoe said. “It allows the police commissioner to understand what is happening when police are in the community. It allows for collective measures to be put in place. This will allow individuals to have an idea to understand how their complaints were resolved.”
Bynoe explained that if the bill passes and is signed into law by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, the police commissioner will create a biannual report to the Nassau County Legislature. The report will include every single complaint that was reported by the 24-hour hotline and website, as well as its status. The report will then be published online, as law enforcement personnel’s names will be highlighted for outstanding cases. Additionally, it will show cases that did not need further discipline.
Presiding Officer of the Nassau County Legislature Richard Nicollelo (R—New Hyde Park) disputes the proposed bill. He said the police department features a hotline already, but admits that changes might be needed to streamline its efficiency.
“The NCPD already has a dedicated telephone number for complaints, which is staffed 24 hours a day,” Nicollelo said. “We will evaluate existing means to file complaints, as well as public notices, regarding those means to determine if they are sufficient. It is important to keep in mind that the NCPD has done an extraordinary job keeping our communities safe and the overwhelming interactions of Nassau residents with the police are positive.”
The NCPD’s website, www.pdcn.org, does have a complaint form that citizens can fill out. It says in red, at the top of the screen, “A department representative will normally respond to your message within three business days.”
However, this bill, the legislators explained, will create a smoother process. The process will send complaints to the Nassau County police commissioner and deputy county executive for public safety within two business days of receiving a complaint, a day sooner than what the NCPD’s website promises.
The bill’s creation came after the two legislators spoke about complaints residents had about police in their two districts. Several residents raised concerns to the legislators that they were unsure if the NCPD followed up and if the complaint had been investigated at all.
“We thought it’s important to create some level of transparency and accountability in the complaint process,” Bynoe said. “This lets individuals share any videos they have in support of their claim.”
Five days after the complaint is resolved, the complainant will receive news of the resolution. That report will notify the complainant of whether or not the identified officer(s) will receive discipline.
“It allows them to provide additional information,” Bynoe said. “It allows people to know someone has their case and is actively working on their case.”
Bynoe wants this to be seen as a tool for bettering the relationship between the community and the NCPD, rather than making it seem like it is a divisive tactic.
“This is an opportunity for us to enhance our delivery of service to residents as it relates to policing,” she said.
The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The bill has to be called to committees in the legislature, and Bynoe expects that to happen at some point in August. From there, it will proceed through the necessary steps in the legislature. Should it pass, Curran will then sign it into law and the new hotline and website can be created.