miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2011

Justice and the Suffolk County Police

Justice and the Suffolk County Police
Published: September 25, 2011

Suffolk County, N.Y., has seen some of the country’s most shameful political battles over day laborers and a string of violent crimes against Latinos, most notoriously the fatal stabbing of an Ecuadorean, Marcelo Lucero, in 2008 by a gang of teenage boys who had made a sport of hunting and assaulting dark-skinned men.

The county executive, Steve Levy, has cultivated a national reputation as a hard-liner on illegal immigration. Immigrants and their advocates charged that the Suffolk Police Department had routinely tolerated hate crimes. Mr. Levy and his appointed police commissioner, Richard Dormer, denied it.

The Justice Department and the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York have been investigating since 2009. Though its inquiry is not complete, Justice’s Civil Rights Division has now sent Mr. Levy a “technical assistance letter,” pointing out ways the Suffolk police could improve policies and procedures to ensure that they are “constitutional.” Its tone is solicitous, but its content damning. In 28 pages the letter makes more than 100 recommendations.

It said department rules governing when officers could ask people about immigration status were “too vague” and “subject to abuse,” leaving them wide open to accusations of racial profiling. It said that while detectives receiving reports of hate crimes were required to conduct in-person follow-up interviews with accusers, they rarely did so — in person or by phone. It said that by allowing officers to classify attacks as mere “youth disturbances” — and not report them — the department risked leaving hate crimes underreported and unprevented. It noted that other Latino men had told the police that Mr. Lucero’s attackers had attacked them, but nothing was done about it.

Mr. Levy is leaving office at the end of the year, his career cut short by an unrelated scandal. His successor will have a lot of work to do to repair toxic relations with Suffolk’s immigrants and reform a police force that has shirked its responsibility to protect all residents.

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