September 15, 2011

The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on Suffolk County officials to immediately adopt U.S. Department of Justice recommendations that will enhance public safety by improving police relations with immigrant residents.

The DOJ’s recommendations, laid out in a Sept. 13 letter to County Executive Steve Levy, follow a more than two-year investigation of the Police Department’s relations with the local Latino community. Community concerns about biased policing expressed after the 2008 murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero in Patchogue helped prompt the federal investigation.

"Years of discriminatory county policies bred hostility toward immigrants that manifested itself in the senseless murder of Mr. Lucero," said Amol Sinha, director of the NYCLU’s Suffolk County Chapter. "The DOJ’s sensible recommendations are an opportunity to improve relations between police and our immigrant neighbors. County officials must embrace this chance to create a safer, more welcoming community for all residents."

Lucero was stabbed to death in November 2008 while being attacked by a group of local teenagers who were out assaulting Latino immigrants for sport.

The DOJ is urging the Police Department to take numerous steps to improve relations with the immigrant community, including developing community outreach programs in Latino neighborhoods, establishing effective systems for investigating possible hate crimes and misconduct complaints against officers, and revising policies and procedures that discourage Latino residents from interacting with police.

"Public safety suffers when immigrant residents are afraid to engage the local police," Sinha said. "If adopted, the DOJ’s recommendations would help the Police Department meet its obligation to protect and serve all residents – no matter what their ethnicity is."