Guest Spot: Current predicament offers Southold PD the opportunity for positive change

Any members of Southold Town Police Department who are the subject of disciplinary procedures are entitled to due process and all the rights afforded them by NYS Civil Service Law. The Southold PD, a small agency, requires a compressed rank structure and chain of command that brings operational management closer to the level of actual execution.

The department does not need a captain and a chief, but does need a full-time police commissioner. Ideally, the chief is the operational officer (COO) and a commissioner is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the department. The chief manages the police services, while the commissioner manages the full administrative, disciplinary and operational functions departmentally. The chief reports to the commissioner and the commissioner reports to the Town Board. The chief has the protection of civil service law and the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the board.

When any police agency’s members are accused of misconduct that involves multiple charges among multiple members and crosses different levels of authority (rank) it almost always represents a problem with the department’s culture. This is especially true when the alleged misconduct includes entitlement or privilege and suggests impunity or law-breaking.

More troubling, if nearly 10% of the sworn staff is alleged to be involved, indeed a very serious problem exists.

If improper or corrupt internal investigations were conducted or lying was validly specified the member’s credibility at trial is subject to attack and the officer’s value to the enforcement mission is seriously compromised. A cop who can’t credibly testify in court is of no use to the police agency.

Culture, like human personality, is woven into the department, usually through leadership. Poor leadership manifests itself in the form of a damaged culture. Good leaders lead by example; truthfulness and transparency result in public trust.

It takes professional leadership, time and training to repair a damaged culture. A new commissioner must inculcate values and self-discipline in all subordinates.

Challenges offer new opportunities; the Southold PD may have just come upon the possibility of positive changes.

The author is a retired Nassau County police captain and an attorney with experience teaching police management and supervision. He lives in Greenport.