Rodney Harrison was named Suffolk County Police commissioner in December 2021 by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. A seasoned and decorated veteran in law enforcement, Harrison immediately got to work on behalf of Suffolk’s 1.5 million residents and the 2,500 sworn officers now working beneath his leadership.
Harrison took over the post from retiring interim Commissioner Stuart Cameron. Prior to Cameron, Geraldine Hart spent three years leading the department. Now, Harrison leads one of the nation’s largest suburban police departments in his 30th year as a law enforcement officer. And, with Suffolk being equally diverse and large, his previous experience will certainly be put to good use.
Harrison joined the New York Police Department Cadet Corp in 1991, taking the sacred oath the year later and becoming a sworn New York City Police Officer. He was assigned to Astoria, Queens, not far from his hometown of Jamaica. He rose quickly, achieving the rank of detective within three years, and continued to rise up the ranks, becoming in 2019 the first-African American Chief of Detectives in the 175-year history of the NYPD.
“Throughout my time as a detective, undercover, and investigator in the detectives squad, I always wondered why we didn’t do things a little differently,” he says. “When I became Chief of Detectives, I said I wanted to make sure that we do everything to benefit the detectives, keep them safe, and help them do their jobs.”
“While I am always humbled by the accomplishment of being the first Black Chief of Detectives, I believe my journey as an undercover, as an investigator with the detective squad, and Chief of Detectives for Brooklyn North is something that makes me most proud,” he added. “Getting to that post, I looked forward to evaluating one of the greatest detective bureaus in the country, to make sure that we were doing it right.”
Harrison’s knowledge and experience on the job allowed him to continue to excel. He would be appointed the Chief of Department — the highest-ranking Uniformed member of the NYPD — and was the first-ever Cadet to rise to this prestigious post. He held every position in the department and is one of the few to hold a position in every city borough and every patrol borough. He completed time as an undercover, detective, precinct commander in Harlem, and even oversaw the NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing Model, which has been regarded as a tremendous success.
“While at first, I didn’t think it was such a big deal, I started to look at some of the others who held the job of Chief of Department,” he says. “Without taking away from their personal journeys in the department, many of them did not serve as a detective, so they didn’t have an understanding of investigations and how the rank-and-file operates. Having experienced every role in the department and having been in the trenches with them, helped me check the box of having been in their shoes.”
“Having the opportunity to work in every borough and patrol borough really helped me understand the landscape of being an executive of the NYPD,” he continued. “I knew the precincts, I knew the precinct commanders, I knew where the crime was occurring and those who were committing the crime — including the gangs. It’s complex and hard to capture in a sentence or two, but there were a lot of experiences that played into my leadership, helping to identify what else can be done to get our precincts safe. It really helped me run the police department the right way, knowing exactly what was going on in each borough, at all times, throughout the whole City of New York.”
Harrison retired from the NYPD in 2021, but he would again find himself in a senior leadership role in law enforcement when Bellone approached him about serving as Suffolk’s police commissioner. When the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved his appointment in December, it was settled, that he held the title, the responsibility, and was determined to hit the ground running.
“I first asked: ‘what is the team I am going to put around me?’ and ‘how could I be the best Commissioner I can be for Suffolk County?’ So, I began to find who was available and who of the best people might be interested in joining me in Suffolk County to make this a better department,” Harrison recalls.
“A lot of the Suffolk County Police Department is former NYPD, and I believe that I feel a connection with many of these Police Officers which has helped me transition into the role. I believe that having a good resume coming from the NYPD has also helped me transition as well,” Harrison says.
Today, law enforcement is faced with unprecedented challenges. From a nationwide crime surge to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to some anti-police sentiment. Here in Suffolk, though, Harrison says he has felt a warm welcome from the members of the department and the residents alike.
“Any time I have an opportunity to address a group of residents, I talk about my experiences, and I assure them that I will use this to keep Suffolk safe and improve quality of life,” he says. “I’ve been able to assure them, also, that I know how to deal with opioids, sex trafficking, cold cases, and a host of other issues that matter to them. I lay out our plan on how we are going to address them and also how we are going to get the police on board to address these issues.”
Harrison says that his top three priorities are: police officer safety, police reform, and solving the Gilgo Beach murders.
“Number one is how to improve Officer Safety,” he says. “We can re-evaluate some procedures and do a better job of keeping our officers safe. You can’t make the county safer if the cops are not safe.”
So far, Harrison says, he sees some similarities and differences between the city and Suffolk.
“One of the similarities I have noticed is the gang violence in certain portions of the county. We intend to implement precision policing, which identifies gang members and works with the district attorney’s office to build cases against them and take them off the street. We had success with precision policing in New York City and I am 1,000% positive we can make this a safer county implementing this and taking those who are causing violence into custody,” Harrison says.
“One of the differences, though, is the lack of diversity. The NYPD mirrored the city and its diversity. Here, though, I don’t see the same level of diversity and this is something that I will be prioritizing going forward, by attracting more from the minority communities to take the exam and join the police department,” Harrison says.
So far, he’s getting to know the layout of Suffolk. Like many who are getting to know their way around the North Fork, Harrison was initially surprised by the vast open space in wine country.
“We always think of Suffolk County as a suburban community, but the farther east you go, you realize how many farms there are. It’s interesting to see how Suffolk County is both suburban and rural, which some people just don’t anticipate when they come out East from the city,” Harrison says.
An avid golfer, Harrison says he has become familiar with some of our county’s prestigious, championship golf courses, quipping “I am trying to find my way to Shinnecock, sooner or later.”
Harrison now resides in our western neighbor, Nassau County, with his wife, LaPrena. He has three daughters and a 2-year-old grandson. Two of his daughters have joined the “family business” as sworn members of the NYPD.
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.