Suffolk County lawmakers confirmed Tuesday that retiring NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison will be the first Black commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department.
The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously to approve Harrison’s confirmation as the department’s top cop. During his confirmation hearing last week, lawmakers peppered Harrison with questions about how he’ll tackle police reforms, reverse an uptick in shootings, and restore public trust in the wake of recent corruption scandals, among other issues.
“I’d like to change some of the negative narrative that this police department has,” Harrison told the panel. “That starts with working with everybody in this room and everybody in range of hearing my voice.”
Harrison replaces Risco Menton-Lewis, who was named acting commissioner on Friday following the retirement of the previous acting commissioner Stuart Cameron, who had been running the department since Geraldine Hart, a former FBI agent, stepped down in April. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone nominated Harrison, a married father of three from Baldwin who grew up in Queens, following a nationwide search.
Asked how he’ll reverse the trend of shootings reportedly being up 23% this year over 2020 as of September, Harrison said he will send additional police resources to the precincts in which most shootings occur, deploy anti-crime units, determine if there’s a motive that’s a common denominator such as gangs or drugs, and partner with federal agencies to keep illegal guns out of the county.
As for his role in enacting the county’s police reform plan that lawmakers passed earlier this year in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality, Harrison said he’s reviewed the reforms and especially supports officers wearing body cameras, which all public-facing officers in the department will be required to wear starting next year.
How he’ll combat corruption in Suffolk was a question asked repeatedly during the hearing, which came days after former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota and Christopher McPartland, Spota’s ex-chief deputy and public corruption bureau chief, began serving five years in federal prison for being convicted of covering up civil rights violations. They had sought to thwart the investigation into James Burke, the former Suffolk police chief, who also served federal prison time after being convicted of beating a handcuffed suspect arrested for stealing the then-chief’s bag of porn and sex toys, authorities have said.
Harrison, noting that the internal affairs unit will report directly to him to avoid interference, said: “I’m going to do what needs to be done to make this a clean department.”