Suffolk County residents are mostly satisfied with police, according to a new community survey. Yet, there is significant divergence between how white and Black residents feel about Suffolk police.

Sixty percent of white residents who responded said prejudice isn’t a problem with cops, however the opposite was true for Black and Hispanic residents, and those who said they had direct contact with police. Likewise, 30% of white respondents said cops provide better policing in white neighborhoods, whereas two-thirds of Black respondents thought this was true. 

Despite all this, among those who had contact with police—regardless of their race or ethnicity—the overwhelming majority surveyed said they were satisfied.

Suffolk County Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis organized the survey, which was conducted by the Finn Institute for Public Safety as part of a settlement agreement with the Justice Department regarding bias policing of Latinos. It asked 600 residents, in various ways, how satisfied they were with police. She said the discrepancy between how respondents of color felt about police and how they were actually treated had to do with how they viewed their community.

“‘If I had a lot of garbage in my neighborhood and you’re not picking it all up, then I’m not getting good service. I go to the other neighborhood and I don’t see any garbage so it must be the service,’” she suggested as being a possible mindset.

Mention-Lewis said police are being asked to solve systemic problems that don’t have to do with policing.

“We’re trying to solve these problems that should be solved by better schools, better education, better resources,” she said. “Many of these things should be solved that way, but unfortunately those things were gutted in the 70s and 80s.”

Mention-Lewis did fault Suffolk’s past traffic stop policies which stopped and ticketed Black and Hispanic drivers at much higher rates than white drivers. 

Police reform advocates seized on this and dismissed the survey results as self-flattery, 

“Out of that we also saw a larger disproportionate number of Black people that are searched, cars that are rifled through,” said Fredrick Brewington, a civil rights lawyer.

According to the survey, nearly 12% of Hispanic respondents said they didn’t feel comfortable reporting crimes to police. Latino advocates suspect this number is low compared to reality. 

Less than 1% of survey interviews were conducted in Spanish, even though 14% of Suffolk residents speak Spanish at home, according to Census data.

Jose Perez, Deputy Counsel for Latino Justice, which has a class action lawsuit against Suffolk police, is skeptical of the results

“If they only engaged in such a limited number of Spanish language interviews, then I think you have to question the methodology of the surveys and the outreach and any conclusions and findings resulting therefrom," he said.

Mention-Lewis said the methodology of the survey was approved by the Justice Department. The feds rejected the department’s first survey attempts as not statistically valid. This latest survey was Suffolk’s second attempt.

Mention-Lewis did acknowledge the difficulty in getting people to take the survey, despite what she called significant outreach.

“People just don’t want to fill out surveys,” she said.