Justice for All: Nassau police embrace outreach, hoping to overcome mistrust among some residents
The Nassau County Police Department says it has been putting an emphasis on building better relationships with the community following the death of George Floyd and calls for reform.
Deputy commanding officer of the 1st precinct, Joseph Guerra, has been on the job for more than 25 years embedded in the communities of Baldwin, Roosevelt and Uniondale.
He says establishing relationships with people in the community is key.
"I think the more information we can exchange the more problems we can solve," says Guerra.
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According to Guerra, he and many officers have a great relationship with clergy. Bishop Raymond Mackey at Tabernacle of Joy Church in Uniondale says his experience with law enforcement has been extremely positive,
"You have some good and you have some bad, but you can't let the bad define the good," says Mackey.
As part of reform efforts, Nassau police added more "Problem Oriented Police" or "POP" officers in areas like this Western Beef strip mall in Roosevelt. They hand out informational flyers on recent scams, and even talk to residents in the area.
But Roosevelt residents like Jerry Saunders are a bit uneasy about the effort.
"It's not comfortable," Saunders says. "It's not comfortable when the police come around to be honest with you, it's not comfortable because of the history".
Saunders adds, "More needs to be done to improve relations, like bringing leaders of the community together with police, put some issues on the table and have an exchange, that would be good".
Abner Vasquez of Roosevelt says he agrees that change can just start with a conversation.
"Police departments are being more progressive right now, they're being more approachable, they're having more meetings with us, something that probably wasn't done that much," says Vasquez.
Nassau County police have added more bicycle officers too. Police leaders say they're more approachable and bridge the gap between officers and residents.
Police officers Jermain Girard and Luis Serrano patrol the neighborhoods on bicycles and enjoy the interaction.
"They see us as human beings, not just officers out there patrolling. We are just like them," says Girard.
Serrano agrees. "In this climate it's really important for us to make that connection," he says.
But not everyone agrees with the way Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder is policing.
As we've reported, a civil rights group called on Commissioner Ryder to step down after they claim he made racially insensitive remarks as he was being questioned about the county's police recruitment practices and the low numbers of minority officers on the force.
"My comments have offended some that's not what the intent was, we have a lot to do with diversity, we know that," says Ryder.
He says he has no plans to step down and that building diversity in the department is his top priority.
Reporting and text by Antoinette Biordi.