Suffolk Police Commissioner Sees Some Progress in Relations With Immigrant Community

Commissioner Hart

At a community meeting on Wednesday evening at the Mastic-Shirley Library, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart presented on the department’s compliance with the Justice Department’s memorandum of understanding for establishing policing practices that protect immigrant communities. She claimed that progress had been made over the last three months.

One of the first things that struck me about her presentation was the extremely low number of murders in Suffolk County. In 2018 the county had one of its lowest number of murders in its modern history. While every death is a tragedy, there were only 21 murders in Suffolk last year. Far from being a county cowering in fear of gang violence, the overall picture is of a declining number of killings. New York City, which has five times the population of Suffolk, had ten times as many killings in 2018, 289 in all.

Sadly, too many Suffolk officials and politicians have grandstanded in the national media portraying their own county as under the sway of MS-13 when the fact is, as the immigrant population of Suffolk has grown, violent crime has declined.

Another positive development has been the recruitment and training of new Spanish-speaking officers. After heavy pressure from community advocates in LILAC, the department created a new civil service position for bilingual police. 20 out of 170 new officers are in this Spanish-speaking officer category. In the current Police Academy class of 86, nine are Spanish-speaking.

Commissioner Hart also addressed a major failing by the department in providing language access for immigrants, the failure of officers to use Language Line. It will be many years before the department has enough officers to be functionally bilingual. In the meantime, the department contracted with the private company Language Line to provide telephonic interpretation services. Statistics released in the Fall revealed that officers almost never actually used the service even though it was available to them. Hart said that protocols are now established to review the non-use of interpretation by officers, including penalties for officers who repeatedly refuse to use Language Line in indicated situations.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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