A police commissioner on Long Island is facing calls to resign after making comments partly attributing his department’s diversity struggles to potential candidates from communities of color growing up in “broken homes.”
Newsday interviewed Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder for an investigation that appeared online on Thursday. In one period studied by the Long Island newspaper, the investigation found Ryder's agency and the neighboring Suffolk County Police Department hired a combined 67 Black candidates out of an applicant pool of 6,539.
“Look, a lot of these kids come from broken homes," he told Newsday. "These kids struggle in these communities because they don’t have both parents around. They don’t have a family history of law enforcement. They’re at a disadvantage starting off. And we have to recognize it and it’s true. 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 into the job," he added. "There are some great kids out there that we would love to have part of this department.”
Ryder, who apologized for the comments Thursday afternoon during a news conference, garnered calls to step down by some activists on Long Island.
“He should resign. When he says something like that, for a commissioner, it’s disgraceful,” said Douglas Mayers, NAACP president of the Freeport-Roosevelt branch on Long Island. Ryder’s comments made him “livid,” Mayers said. “I won’t work with him for nothing anymore.”
Terrel Tuosto is co-founder of LI Peaceful Protests, a grassroots group that organized marches against police brutality on the island. Tuosto, 29, didn’t mince words: “He should resign. He is not fit for the job.”
During the Thursday afternoon press conference about how Ryder’s police department, of about 2,400 members, the 13th largest in the country, is outfitting sworn officers with body cameras, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran defended Ryder and said calls for his resignation were unfair.
“Part of the reason I selected him to be the police commissioner is because he has a commitment to community policing. And he has a commitment to diversity in hiring,” Curran said. “You speak to folks all over this county. He is everywhere. He engages with everyone, every background, every race, every ethnicity, every community.”
Ryder addressed his remarks at the media briefing.
“If I offended anybody, I truly apologize for that. That was not the intent,” Ryder said. “I don’t read from a script. I speak from my heart and my head. I give you what I’m thinking and I tell you,” he said. “I know these communities that I’ve worked in. I mentor kids today in these communities.”
In a statement to NBC News on Thursday prior to his apology, Ryder said his comments were made six months ago, and his intention was “to show how we are continuing to improve recruitment efforts to increase diversity through community outreach and supporting applicants throughout the process. My entire adult life has been dedicated to law enforcement and building trust in our communities,” the statement read.
E. Reginald Pope Sr., Long Island’s regional director of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said he has a good working relationship with Ryder.
“I don’t think he meant it, in the context that it was taken, as a racial trope,” Pope said. “He could have used a better choice of words.”