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WSHU's Charles Lane follows the different paths taken by Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island to undergo mandated police reform.

Long Island NAACP: Suffolk Police Conducting Banned Traffic Searches

Suffolk County police
Elvert Barnes

Police reform advocates said Suffolk County is still conducting certain traffic searches that were banned in March as part of state-mandated police reform. According to police data, these searches have disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic drivers.

Consent-only searches are when police pull over a driver for a seemingly innocuous offense, like a broken tail light or not wearing a seat belt. From there police ask the driver if they can search the car. Asking for consent evades the Fourth Amendment requirement of probable cause.

Suffolk police used this practice mostly on drivers of color. Both police and reform advocates agree this led to disparate outcomes for Black and Hispanic drivers: such as more tickets and more arrests.

Because of this Suffolk police vowed to end the practice and lawmakers unanimously approved that decision two months ago.

However, Tracey Edwards, head of the Long Island NAACP, told the Suffolk County Legislature that the practice continues. She cited the story of a man pulled over for not wearing his seat belt. Based off that, he was handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car while the officer searched his car and found nothing.

Edwards told lawmakers police reforms have still not made it down to precincts.

“There needs to be precinct-level meetings with all units, patrol and specialized. It’s not an unreasonable ask in two months. It’s a failure of leadership,” Edwards said.

Suffolk police said in response that an internal affairs investigation has been started regarding the search. Since the reform plan was approved in April, police said they sent a memo to officers regarding consent-only searches. The department also said it is “reviewing” the reform plan during monthly precinct meetings with officers.

The department did not say how many review meetings have been conducted over the last two months.

Police reformers want there to be actual question-and-answer sessions with officers, and a signed acknowledgment that they understand the new reforms.

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.