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January 24, 2011   View Discussion

Suffolk Exec Levy Criticizes Cop Who Excoriated Him on Hate Crimes

On January 23, Newsday columnist Joye Brown published a bombshell article in which the former head of the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes Unit accused County Executive Steve Levy of changing police hate crime policies to ignore some crimes and deemphasized others, amongst other charges.

“They came in and they started to shut it down . . . all of a sudden it was, no, you are not doing that, no, that is not a hate crime,” Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks said, referring to members of the Levy administration who took office in 2004. Reecks was recently supplanted as commander of the hate crimes unit when Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer added a higher ranking officer to the unit, which may have influenced his willingness to talk about county policing policies.

In response to those accusations, today Levy’s camp issued a press release, both lengthy and unconventional—it clocks out at over 1,400 words and haphazardly bounces from one topic to another—and sprinkled with denials and personal attacks against Reecks.

One notable part of the statement is the inclusion of an email allegedly sent by Reecks to Commissioner Dormer in reference to the ongoing federal investigation into discriminatory policing against Suffolk Latinos.

From the release:

FACT: Reecks says in the opinion column that county officials were upset when he wanted to speak alone with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who are assessing hate crimes. Several other police officials were also alone during these discussions, in fact, and neither Reecks nor the any of the others were ever held back or disciplined as a result. It is true that his superiors were surprised and disturbed that Reecks had once again not given them the courtesy of notification prior to his discussion with the DOJ that he would be interviewing alone. However, Reecks’ claim that he was being muzzled falls flat on its face when considering an e-mail he sent to Commissioner Dormer on January 12, 2009, after his meeting with the DOJ: “I’ve spoken to the ‘Fed’ that is doing the probe. Clearly we don’t have a problem,” Reecks wrote. “This is just (Newsday reporter) Bart Jones keeping things stirred up. We really shouldn’t give him any information. It’s just going to keep him going and nothing changes with our investigations.”

Here’s the complete press release:

Facts about Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit and Detective Sergeant Robert Reecks

An opinion column published in Newsday on Jan. 23 purporting that Suffolk Executive Steve Levy interfered with Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks and the Suffolk Police Department’s hate crimes unit is replete with falsehoods and devoid of numerous crucial facts.

FACT: As is the case with all high-profile incidents in the county, such as homicides, the Levy administration has been appropriately informed about hateful incidents in the county and efforts of the hate crimes unit to investigate and report these incidents. This close interaction with Reecks and his superiors in the police department is not an indication of interference; it is a reflection of how seriously the county executive takes such incidents and communications that accompany them.

FACT: The elevation of a detective lieutenant to work with Reecks and lead the hate crimes unit was designed solely to further strengthen the team. (Note: The Nassau County police department’s hate crimes commander is also a detective lieutenant, who was promoted to the post last year.) The Newsday opinion column failed to mention that Reecks was miffed that he was not assigned to the new position and had not scored high enough on the lieutenant’s exam to be considered for that rank. The creation of the post in Suffolk was the latest sign of Levy and Police Commissioner Richard Dormer’s commitment to fighting hate crimes. The Suffolk Police Department is the only department on Long Island that has a dedicated hate crimes unit that is exclusively tasked with investigating reported hate crimes for the five western towns of Suffolk.

FACT: Reecks alleges that the administration has reined him in on handling cases. In fact, his knee-jerk classification of incidents as hate crimes before even investigating these incidents was criticized by Suffolk’s district attorney on several occasions. In one case, punctured tires on a gay organization’s van was discussed in the media as a hate crime by the unit. Later, the investigation found that the damage had been done by a disgruntled former employee who himself was gay. This type of uninformed classification, made prior to an investigation, had several times put the district’s office in an awkward, untenable situation. The DA asked the county executive and police commissioner to ensure that proper investigations were conducted before rash statements were made, so that incidents could be properly charged. This reasonable request for an investigation does not constitute manipulation, as Reecks charges in the column. On another occasion, the unit classified an incident as a hate crime where a man was voicing racial epithets at a laundry mat, when an investigation later showed that the person was mentally ill and the situation, according to the district attorney, did not qualify as a hate crime under the state statute.

FACT: Reecks depicts himself in the opinion column as a cop who simply wants to do his job. If he were of such single-minded focus, why would Reecks irresponsibly and abruptly quit a high-profile hate crimes task force—without even notifying the police commissioner, who appointed him to the position? Quite simply, he was miffed that Commissioner Dormer had just days earlier elevated the detective lieutenant to further strengthen the hate crimes unit. Though not demoted or diminished in his role, Reecks responded unprofessionally.

FACT: Reecks’ penchant for going to the media when he doesn’t get his way was evident in 2006, when the police commissioner determined that the hate crimes unit should be moved from headquarters in Yaphank to the Seventh Precinct building, where Special Victims and other units were located. Because Reecks personally objected to having his office moved, he initiated a campaign through his connection to community leaders to reverse the decision.

FACT: Reecks says in the opinion column that county officials were upset when he wanted to speak alone with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who are assessing hate crimes. Several other police officials were also alone during these discussions, in fact, and neither Reecks nor the any of the others were ever held back or disciplined as a result. It is true that his superiors were surprised and disturbed that Reecks had once again not given them the courtesy of notification prior to his discussion with the DOJ that he would be interviewing alone. However, Reecks’ claim that he was being muzzled falls flat on its face when considering an e-mail he sent to Commissioner Dormer on January 12, 2009, after his meeting with the DOJ: “I’ve spoken to the ‘Fed’ that is doing the probe. Clearly we don’t have a problem,” Reecks wrote. “This is just (Newsday reporter) Bart Jones keeping things stirred up. We really shouldn’t give him any information. It’s just going to keep him going and nothing changes with our investigations.”

FACT: Reecks’ insubordination was evident again last week when he took it upon himself to resign as the police commissioner’s representative to the hate crimes task force without having the decency of following protocol and notifying the police commissioner about the sudden action. Reecks obviously was miffed that someone other than himself was appointed to the detective lieutenant post—even though he had not scored high enough on the lieutenant’s exam to be considered for that rank.

FACT: Reecks complained that he was not officially informed about the high-profile John White case. Numerous senior police officials, including Commissioner Dormer, were not directly involved because this homicide investigation was conducted in conjunction with the DA’s office. Decisions pertaining to charges and other factors were strictly under the purview of the DA’s office.

FACT: The definition of what is and what is not a hate crime is determined through New York State law; these classifications cannot be influenced by the administration or any other entity, as Reecks claims in the opinion column. There is a difference between a hateful act and a hate crime. While it may seem easy to call a hateful incident a hate crime, there is much more involved to have the elements of a crime fit the Hate Crime Legislation Act of 2000. There are two very important elements—motivation plus a specified crime: The Hate Crime Legislation Act requires intentionally targeting a specific individual to harm and it must be related to a crime specifically mentioned in the law, including harassment, stalking or aggravated assault.

FACT: In a June 2004 letter, an administrator from the impartial New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) informed Reecks that Suffolk County had been over reporting hate crimes. The state was changing its criteria regarding six types of incidents that had been reported as hate crimes but “do not fall within the statute,” the administrator wrote. These incidents included cemetery desecration, making graffiti, harassment, and disruption or disturbance of religious services. Following this directive, beginning in 2005—and as was consistent with reported hate crime incidents by our neighboring counties and municipalities statewide—the SCPDHCU reported fewer hate crime incidents to the DCJS. The police commissioner and county executive were furious that Reecks never divulged this letter until several years after it was issued.

FACT: Suffolk Executive Steve Levy has been a loud and consistent voice behind the strengthening of this state statute. The county executive was the driving force behind an amendment made to the law in 2008 to include nooses as a symbol of hate against African Americans. Levy had lobbied the legislature for two years to amend the law, following an incident that took place in Southampton where an employee was intimidated by co-workers who placed a noose on his car but could not, according to counsel, be prosecuted under the hate crimes law.

FACT: There have been some 65 press releases issued about hateful incidents since the Levy administration took office in 2004. There has never been a case where information has been manipulated or suppressed. The example sought to be used by Reecks in the Newsday column—that there was a of a 20-foot swastika painted on the ground in Centereach that was not labeled a hate crime—underscores how wrong he is on this issue. As New York State noted, a random swastika in a field does not indicate a hate crime. To represent a hate crime, it would have to be targeted toward a specific synagogue or individual or individual’s property, with the intent of intimidating that individual.

Dan Aug
Director of Communications
Office of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy

 

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