LI civil rights leaders criticize Ryder comments on lack of diversity

Four Long Island civil rights leaders said that Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder relied on negative stereotypes of Black and Hispanic families to explain in a Newsday interview his department’s failure to attract greater numbers of minority hiring candidates.

Two of the leaders ­– NAACP Long Island Regional Director Tracey Edwards and Luis Mendez, formerly Nassau’s deputy director of minority affairs — urged County Executive Laura Curran to ask for Ryder’s resignation.

“As a daughter of a Black police officer and proud aunt of a Black doctor, I am totally disgusted by the police commissioner’s ethnic stereotypes and blind ignorance,” Edwards said, adding:

“Clearly, based on his statements, he is unfit to serve the rich diversity of Nassau County. On behalf of the NAACP Long Island Region, I call on the county executive to thank Police Commissioner Ryder for his service and expedite his retirement. If County Executive Curran in any way defends his comments, she is unfit to serve as well.”

Civil rights leaders react to Ryder’s comments

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder faces criticism that he stereotyped Black and Hispanic families to explain why his department doesn’t attract more minority hiring candidates. Credit: Newsday staff

Newsday provided Nassau County Executive Laura Curran with an audio recording of Ryder’s Newsday interview and informed both her and Ryder about the responses to the commissioner’s statements, including calls for his dismissal.

Ryder scheduled and canceled a Newsday interview to respond to the criticism that was arranged to be recorded on video. Curran’s press office then emailed statements from both of them. While expressing commitments to diversifying the police department, each specifically addressed Ryder’s remarks briefly.

Ryder wrote: “My intention in my responses was not to be hurtful to anyone but to show how we are continuing to improve recruitment efforts to increase diversity through community outreach and supporting applicants throughout the process.”

Curran wrote: “I do not believe lack of diversity in law enforcement is tied to family make-up.”

Full interview with Commissioner Ryder

In a one-on-one interview with Newsday, Commissioner Patrick Ryder discussed what he sees as the obstacles to his goal of increasing diversity in the Nassau County Police Department. Credit: Newsday staff

In Newsday’s interview, Ryder focused on a gap between the number of minorities who registered to take the police hiring test and the number who eventually took the exam.

He cited figures indicating a 10% drop among whites, a 43% drop among Hispanics, and a 57% drop among Blacks in a round of hiring that began in 2018.

“That’s a problem right off the bat — what happened to those other thousand?” Ryder said, referring to a decline in Blacks from 2,800 who signed up to 1,200 who took the test. “I lost 1,000 kids that could, if I got 10% of that, that would drive my diversity.”

Ryder attributed the fall-off among minorities to the presence of “broken homes” or to a lack of parental support in their communities. He also said that, compared with white peers, relatively few minority career-seekers have family members who work as police officers and can serve as guides to getting hired.

“I grew up around families that had cops in it, there was a push to take the test, there was a push to make sure I got everything done,” Ryder said. “I also had two parents at home pushing me, getting me up and making sure I went to the academy, making sure I did what I was supposed to do.”

“These kids struggle in these communities because they don’t have both parents around. They don’t have a family history of law enforcement. And they’re at a disadvantage starting off. And we have to recognize it’s true.”

As an example, Ryder pointed to recruitment efforts in Roosevelt, a community where all but 11 of the district’s 3,346 students are Black or Hispanic, according to the state education department.

“Look, a lot of these kids come from broken homes,” he said. “A lot of the kids come from struggles in their neighborhood. And they need that advantage, they need someone to push them a little bit.”

Discussing a new mentorship program in which minority officers will help minority applicants navigate the hiring process, Ryder also said:

“I can’t fix the family home, but I can fix the kid, I can help him get better and work with him to make sure we don’t lose that kid and get him onto the job. There’s some great kids out there that we’d love to have part of this department.”

In his Newsday interview, Ryder suggested that the department faced challenges attracting Jews, Asians and Muslims because of what he said were the career preferences of members of those groups. He said:

“When we look at diversity in a police department, you’ve got to go look at other employments around the country. What’s the percentage of Asians that are in the doctor world? What is the percentage of lawyers that are Jewish? You know, these are real facts, real numbers, and they are high on both sides. I have great friends from the Muslim community. And I asked them why don’t you get your son to take the test? He said I want my son to be a doctor. I want my son, my daughter to be a doctor. Okay, but respectfully, that’s their choice, not ours. So we lose those candidates.”

He also stated: “I think the process we have is good. I think giving kids a little advantage in minority communities is good, too. They just don’t have it. They don’t have mom and dad.”

Shown transcripts of Ryder’s statements, Edwards, Mendez, as well as Elaine Gross, president of Erase Racism, and Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Long Island, said in separate interviews that he had falsely portrayed minority families and was holding minority communities responsible for the department’s recruitment failures.

Edwards was among a group of more than a dozen that quit Nassau’s community advisory panel in January after the county released a 310-page police reform plan that they said they neither helped create nor had a chance to review.

Gross said Ryder’s statements “were really a reflection of stereotypes and other derogatory kinds of comments that sort of makes your skin crawl when you hear it.”

She continued: “He’s basically blaming Black people or people of color for not being on the police force, rather than him saying, ‘We have a responsibility, and these are all of the things we’ve done to remove impediments that may be there, so that we will have more representation from diverse communities.'”

Ryder leads the largest police force in a county whose population has changed markedly in his three decades in the department.

In 1990, the U.S. Census counted residents as 83% white, 8% Black, 6% Hispanic and 3% Asian. By 2019, the make-up had been transformed to 60% white, 11% Black, 17% Hispanic and 10% Asian, according to Census estimates.

The Urban League’s Sanders said Ryder showed that he lacks a full understanding of Long Island’s minority population.

“I would never say somebody should step down. I don’t think that it was that egregious,” she said. “I believe that he really believes what he’s saying. What I would say is that from all the levels of people that are over him that supervise his authority in the community, it is time to get him engaged with interacting with people that don’t look like him. Because the only reason he makes those statements is because he really does believe that this is true. So how do we change his vision?”

Sanders also said: “Personally, I don’t come from a broken home, I come from a law enforcement environment. But would you know that unless you had a conversation with me?”

Mendez is the founder of Empowering Young Professionals of Long Island, a networking and mentoring group aimed at minority youth. He said Ryder had wrongly generalized that police candidates of color fall short because they come from single-parent households.

Describing Ryder as “blaming the victim,” Mendez said that the commissioner’s characterization “tells me that he’s blind to the needs of the minority communities.”

“If I was the county executive and my commissioner has said that, I would say to that commissioner, ‘You have served the community well up until this point, thank you so much, may I have your resignation?'” Mendez said.

Gross said Ryder’s comments failed to fully account for the role police have played in alienating members of the Island’s minority communities.

“He’s also not taking into account that for a lot of people of color, a lot of people that look like me, their encounters with the police have not been pleasant. And I’m not talking because they have broken the law or because they’re criminals in any way.”

Ryder acknowledged once in the interview that some people of color have negative perceptions of police.

“How do I understand the African American kid that’s been stopped by a car and feels he was not respected because he was stopped because of his color?” Ryder asked. “That may not have been the reason. But so when we have Black officers, Hispanic officers, male, female officers, transgender, LGBTQ, whatever it is that’s out there, if we can relate better, we understand better, we police better. So it’s important that the community sees it. And then they have trust back with us.”

Rahwa Haile, associate professor and a social epidemiologist at SUNY Old Westbury, said poverty rates among Blacks and Hispanics are higher in Nassau than for whites. But studies have shown little difference between family and cultural values among minorities as a whole.

“This stereotype of Black folks and brown folks having been in broken homes, that’s a very old trope that’s been used to describe Black and brown communities, and it’s actually one that’s false,” she said.

Additionally, Ryder asserted that military service gave white applicants an edge over minority candidates.

By state law, veterans get a five-point boost to their written test scores and disabled veterans are awarded 10 extra points. As one result, Ryder said a class hired after a 2018 test was overwhelmingly white — 80 of the 96 recruits were white and, Ryder said, “about half of those were served in the military. So that separates it.”

“A lot of our kids, the white kids, have gone into the military at larger percentage,” Ryder said without offering support for the statement.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s most recent demographic report from 2019, Blacks make up 17% of the active force compared with 13% of the population nationwide.

“The commissioner’s comments are not aligned with facts,” said Richard Brookshire, co-founder and executive director of the Black Veterans Project, an advocacy research group. “Blacks serve in the military at higher rates than they are represented in the population.”

Commenting on Ryder’s record in general, Curran wrote in her email that “he has more than met” her expectations for “strengthening relationships with all of our residents.” She also stated that Ryder “is committed to increasing diversity in the NCPD” and wrote that, “Under his tenure, the executive leadership of the police force is the most diverse it has ever been.”

Three of the department’s four chiefs, including the four-star chief of department, Nassau’s highest uniform rank, are Black. Below them a total of 342 officers hold ranks of sergeant or above, according to figures supplied by the department as of March. Of those, 319, or 93%, are white.

In his own email, Ryder pledged a commitment to diversifying the force. He wrote:

“In the past four years I have attended hundreds of community meetings for the purpose of building trust in communities of all races, genders and religions. As I have stated in the past, recruitment practices must always continue to expand with a focus placed on increasing the number of minority officers. This department will continue to work towards a more diverse police department.”