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Most Surveyed Are Satisfied With Suffolk County Police While Black, Latino Residents Have Concerns

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Suffolk County residents are mostly satisfied with police, according to a new community survey. Yet, there is significant difference between how white and Black residents feel about Suffolk County Police Department.

Respondents of color said police provide better policing in white neighborhoods while less than third of white respondents felt that way. Black and Hispanic respondents also said racial or ethnic prejudice among police officers is a problem. Most white respondents didn't see that problem.

Despite all this, among those who had contact with police — regardless of their race or ethnicity — the overwhelming majority said they were treated fairly.

Credit Charles Lane/ WSHU Public Radio
Even though Black and Hispanic residents in Suffolk County felt there is a bias in policing, the vast majority are satisfied with the police department. Source: Finn Institute for Public Safety Survey.

Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis, who organized the survey, said the discrepancy between how respondents of color felt about police and how they were actually treated had to do with how they viewed their community.

“If I had a lot of garbage in my neighborhood and you’re not picking it all up, then I’m not getting good service. I go to the other neighborhood and I don’t see any garbage so it must be the service,” she said.

Mention-Lewis said police are being asked to solve systemic problems that don’t have to do with policing.

“We’re trying to solve these problems that should be solved by better schools, better education, better resources," Mention-Lewis said. "Many of these things should be solved that way, but unfortunately those things were gutted in the '70s and '80s.”

Mention-Lewis did fault Suffolk’s past traffic stop policies, which stopped and ticketed Black and Hispanic drivers at much higher rates than white drivers.

Police reform advocates seized on this and largely dismissed the survey results as self-flattery.

“Out of that we also saw a larger disproportionate number of Black people that are searched, cars that are rifled through,” said Fredrick Brewington, a civil rights lawyer.

The community survey was conducted by the Finn Institute for Public Safety as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding bias policing of Latinos. It asked 600 residents, in various ways, how satisfied they were with police.

According to the survey, nearly 12% of Hispanic respondents said they didn’t feel comfortable reporting crimes to police. Latino advocates suspect this number is low compared to reality.

Less than 1% of survey interviews were conducted in Spanish, even though 14% of Suffolk residents speak Spanish at home, according to Census data.

“If they only engaged in such a limited number of Spanish language interviews, then I think you have to question the methodology of the surveys and the outreach and any conclusions and findings resulting therefrom,” said Jose Perez, deputy counsel for Latino Justice, a group that has a class-action lawsuit against Suffolk County Police.

Mention-Lewis said the methodology of the survey was approved by the Justice Department. The police department's first attempt at a survey was rejected as not statistically valid. This latest survey was Suffolk’s second attempt.

Mention-Lewis did acknowledge the difficulty in getting people to take the survey, despite what she called "significant outreach."

“People just don’t want to fill out surveys,” she said.

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.