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Nassau Police say ‘non-residents’ are causing racial enforcement disparity. Data suggests otherwise

Nassau County Police
Elvert Barnes

It was an unprecedented release of data compared to what the Nassau County Police Department typically makes available. Late last month, the public got a detailed look at arrest numbers, traffic stops, pat downs and other police interactions — revealing sharp racial disparities in law enforcement.

Just under half of this Long Island county’s population identifies as non-white — including Black, Latino, Asian and other categories. And yet, according to the new topline arrest data, those demographic groups made up a full two-thirds of people arrested by Nassau police.

At a hearing last week, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told local lawmakers it was “unfair” to draw conclusions about the arrest data because 35% of those arrested came from outside the county, which includes neighboring parts of New York City and Suffolk County.

“They're not part of the county of Nassau,” Ryder told lawmakers. “They came here to commit some kind of criminal act.“

But an analysis of the data by WSHU and WNYC/Gothamist found that racial disparities persisted independent of whether the person who was stopped, summonsed or arrested by police resided in Nassau County or elsewhere, providing a more granular view into how police interact with the public than the raw data offers.

One example is pat downs. In 2021, Nassau police stopped and questioned more white people than Black people. However, more Black people were searched during those stops — 33% — compared to white people, who were only searched 23% of the time.

Another example: who Nassau police decided not to arrest. The past four years have been marked by a large drop in arrests overall — 37% — for both Nassau County residents and those coming into the county from elsewhere. But no matter where people resided, that decline was larger for white people, who saw a 45% decrease in overall arrests. Whereas arrests of Black people only dropped 33% and just 28% for Latinos.

Insensitive distraction

Ryder did not offer an explanation for these disparities during his testimony during the legislative hearing.

His insistence that they are being driven by people from outside Nassau County has raised concerns among advocates for police reform, including civil right lawyer Fred Brewington, who said Ryder’s language insinuates that people of color are outsiders to the community.

“That statement is the declaration of ignorance,” Brewington said. “Coming out of Suffolk County or them coming from Queens or Brooklyn, that somehow their nefarious because of their race, it's ridiculous.”

“It doesn't matter where they're from. That's a distraction,” said County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, New York. “More Blacks are being exposed to and responsible for fees, fines and tax.”

Ryder defended his police department’s track record by pointing to traffic summonses. Data show that 37% of summonses went to white drivers while only 20% went to Black drivers.

“The number is not that far out of whack,” Ryder said in his testimony to lawmakers.

But the more detailed analysis by WSHU and WNYC/Gothamist shows that, on average and independent of where people live, white drivers received 1.7 tickets per stop, fewer compared to Black drivers (2.3 tickets per stop) and Latino drivers (2.4 tickets per stop).

“It's very clear that the over policing of Black and Latino communities has, as a whole, not really improved,” said Meena Roland Oberdick, a legal fellow with Latino Justice. “That's concerning given how much attention is given to this issue.”

The Nassau County Police Department did not respond to multiple messages requesting clarification.

Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD Detective Sergeant and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said more information is needed before making firm conclusions about racial bias in policing. The question, he said, is whether there are other reasons that explain the disparities in pat-downs, arrests and traffic stops.

“If you're picking out a precinct or an area that has a high crime rate and high victimization rate that is mostly minority, then the answer to that question is no. But if you have people of color who are being stopped in white neighborhoods … and they're being picked out because of their skin color, then absolutely,” Giacalone said.

Several community groups and lawmakers in Nassau County including Solages, the Valley Stream legislator, have asked for additional data and more frequent releases of data to provide an even clearer picture of how the police department is conducting itself.

“There has been a level of increasing transparency,” Solages said, “but no real accountability yet.”

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.