The Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) of Long Island, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice reached a tentative agreement in December 2013 to ensure that the suburban police department does not discriminate against Latinos. The Suffolk County Legislature must approve the agreement in order for it to take effect. Once approved, the Justice Department will monitor the county’s compliance with the initiative for at least one year.
An investigation of the SCPD’s treatment of Latinos began several years ago after the death of 37-year-old Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero. Lucero was killed by a group of seven teenagers targeting Hispanics while he walked home in Patchogue, Long Island on the evening of November 8, 2008. Lucero’s teenage killer received 25 years in prison, while the six other boys were sentenced to 10 years upstate.
However, before Lucero’s murder, investigators claim that the SCPD often discouraged Latino victims from reporting complaints. In some cases, investigators found that the SCPD ignored reported hate crimes and incidents against Latinos. According to Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the SCPD’s policies created an environment that led to Lucero’s death. Sinha said, “Years of discriminatory county policies bred hostilities toward immigrants that manifested itself in the senseless murder of Mr. Lucero.”
The agreement with the SCPD includes “enhanced training and investigation of allegations of hate crimes and bias incidents, meaningful access to police services for people with limited English proficiency, strengthened SCPD outreach efforts in Latino communities, and the development and maintenance of a true Community Oriented Policing Enforcement program throughout the county.”
According to U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch, the agreement is a step in a positive direction. She said, “All residents of Suffolk County deserve full and unbiased police protection, regardless of national origin, race, or citizenship status. When people feel they cannot turn to the police for protection, they have lost one of our most basic rights–the right to feel safe in one’s community.”
However, according to Fernando Meteo, president of Hispanics Across America and spokesman for the Lucero family, the members of the Lucero family partially blame the SCPD for Marcelo’s murder and would like an apology from the department. In addition, Meteo stated that the treatment of Latinos by the SCPD has only improved slightly since Lucero’s death. He said, “Today, the police department treats them with a little more respect. It’s getting better, but it’s not perfect.”
Website Resource: Suburban New York police department settles with feds over bias claims