Suffolk County lawmakers have approved an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that settles a probe into the police department’s handling of hate crimes committed against Latinos in years past.
The county legislature unanimously passed the measure Tuesday, the last scheduled meeting of the year, two weeks after federal authorities announced the conclusion of their investigation launched after a group of teenagers killed an Ecuadorean immigrant in Patchogue five years ago.
“The community did not have to wait for the Department of Justice to know that something was wrong,” said Joselo Lucero, who became an advocate for immigrants’ rights after the slaying of his brother, Marcelo. “We gotta change the tone.”
The agreement calls for Suffolk police to implement policies that ensure its officers don’t discriminate against members of the Hispanic community.
The agreed-upon policies, many of which have already been implemented, include enhanced training and investigation of allegations of hate crimes, improved access to police services for people with limited English proficiency and strengthening the department’s outreach efforts in Hispanic communities.
“They had no findings of discriminatory policing in Suffolk,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Ed Webber told the legislature before the vote, estimating the new policies are expected to cost the department more than $600,000.
Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport) was the only member of the panel to wonder aloud what the point of approving the settlement was without such a finding.
“If there are no findings of any wrongdoing…how do [federal investigators] have any leverage to make any sort of demand that we enter into an agreement?” he asked before voting for the measure.
Advocates such as Lucero expressed dismay that the report released after the federal probe did not address specific cases that critics alleged the department did not investigate, but mostly remained optimistic.
“We are very encouraged that this is a new more welcoming era in Suffolk County,” said Maryann Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins.