For more than 25 years I have reported on the Nassau Police. My stories often involved me spending days, weeks, and sometimes even months observing the cops on the street. It meant getting into their minds and sometimes into their souls. Those years enabled me to cross over the “Blue Wall” and learn not only what the job was about, but what it took to do that job. I watched officers as their adrenalin spiked while waiting to make a major undercover narcotics bust, and I watched them as their eyes teared up when a baby died in an ambulance.
I developed a deep respect for the people who had to deal with one of the hardest jobs a person could have. I learned that these men and women brought with them a strong sense of integrity and honesty.
When I first began my police reporting, a Deputy Commissioner named Charlie Spahr became my mentor. He saw something in me that made him open doors that few reporters ever got through. He wanted me to see firsthand what it took to be a cop—a good cop. He never hid anything because he believed every cop in the county was a good cop.
Now, I know that if Charlie was still alive, he would be angry and ashamed—not of the cops on the street who are still doing what they did when I first started working with them, but of the few bad apples who have cast a dark light on the whole department.
Nassau County has been known nationally as one of the best police departments in the country. Scandals were very few and far between. The people who ran the department had strict standards, and every cop on the street knew they had to meet them. They were the gold standard of policing.
When I first heard of the scandals that were occurring in the department, I was reluctant to report on them. I felt they were, at the very least, exaggerated. That’s why it took nine months to fully research the story that led to the Nassau County District Attorney’s recent arrest of three high-ranking officers.
But it’s important for the public to know that these few are the exception, not the rule. Despite what was happening at the top, the cops on the street kept doing their job. They still do. This is a time when the cops need the public’s support, not their disgust.
The public is sheltered from the reality of what cops face—the dark side of Nassau County, where residents have illegal guns, knives and other weapons, and are not afraid to use them. Where drug deals go down daily, and where someone high on these drugs will lash out at anyone, cop or not.
And despite the perception, not every cop in Nassau brings home $100,000-plus salaries. An entry-level officer makes $34,000 for risking his or her life on a daily basis.
When we are in trouble we call a cop. Now they are in trouble, and they need to call the public.
The public shouldn’t paint the department with one brush. The cop that is there when you call has done nothing wrong.