The move to the Suffolk County Police Department from the NYPD was not without trepidation, though Det. Chris Mangi had been a cop for a handful of years. In his 20s, he was the new guy.
He also was openly gay.
As Mangi recalled this week, years later, he asked his patrol partner what the reaction had been to his joining the Second Precinct in Huntington.
” ‘Chris, it was hysterical,’ ” Mangi said. ” ‘All we knew was that there’s this gay cop coming, that he’s from the NYPD.’ Then he told me how the commander told them, ‘Go make sure there’s no [anti-]gay graffiti on the bathroom stalls.’ “
More than 25 years later, Mangi can laugh, because the moment, he said, was proof of the attempt to make him feel welcome.
Also because it shows how far things have come.
Mangi, 52, is now president of the SCPD LGBTQ Society, a fraternal organization that supports LGBTQ+ sworn, civilian and retired employees of the department “by providing a voice for equality.”
Introduced last month, it’s inaccurate to think the group, which has about 50 members, is newly formed. It previously existed for about 25 years as an arm of GOAL — the NYPD’s Gay Officers Action League, which began in 1982.
“I really do believe there has been a good acceptance level [of LGBTQ officers] in Suffolk,” Mangi said.
Despite nationwide outcry from marginalized communities, both LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC — that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual; and Black, Indigenous and people of color — in wake of recent outrages, including the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020, Mangi said that in Nassau and Suffolk, there has been a longtime effort by police to bridge gaps.
“I think how you change things is through education and visibility and in my time as a cop I think the world has gotten better at understanding the needs of the gay, lesbian and transgender community — and I believe the police department has gotten better with it, too,” Mangi said.
David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of the LGBT Network, which runs Long Island Pride, agreed.
“Systemically, organizations that are paramilitary, like police, have focused in on machismo,” he said, “and so may not have been the most-supportive of LGBT communities throughout different parts of the country.”
But, Kilmnick said, he and the LGBT Network first began positive interactions with Hate Crimes Bureau detectives on Long Island more than 25 years ago regarding issues affecting the LGBTQ community, from the policing of crimes to fostering better ways to interact, understand and meet the day-to-day needs and concerns of those marginalized.
Kilmnick even conducted training sessions at the police academy. It is a role Mangi still fills, teaching candidates a primer on LGBTQ life.
Calls to do better
Still, there are many who believe police can do better.
In the wake of nationwide criticism, this year, uniformed officers were banned from the Pride Parade in New York City. And groups like the recently formed Black and Brown Equity Coalition, based in the traditional Fire Island LGBTQ community of Cherry Grove, remain critical.
“The areas of concern are things you only have to turn on the news to see,” BABEC president Tomik Dash said, adding: “Our thing is we don’t have a problem with individual police officers. . . . We have a problem with the system of policing and how disproportionately it affects Black and brown people and members of the [LGBTQIA+, BIPOC] community. Police never spoke up about transgressions that have been made until maybe the last year. Tell us what you’re doing from the inside. Maybe come to one of our meetings.”
Both Mangi and Nassau County Police Department Det. Catrina Rhatigan, commander of Nassau Third Squad detectives and a founder of the Nassau LGBTQ Society, said efforts are being made.
Suffolk acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and NCPD Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder have all embraced the new fraternal societies, Mangi and Rhatigan said.
The Nassau society, which has about 30 members, formed in 2016. Like Suffolk, it existed more than 20 years as part of GOAL.
As detailed in the Suffolk County Police Reform & Reinvention plan, Cameron said his department is continually working to improve relationships — both inside the department and between department personnel and residents.
Those efforts begin, he said, even before Academy training, when candidates are still being recruited. The department, Cameron said, has candidates meet with a host of fraternal organizations so they understand they’ll be welcomed no matter their race, religion, gender or orientation — that the only factor that counts is whether or not they’re good cops.
He said the department wants all members to understand they’re emissaries when they deal with communities they serve.
“We tell our officers that when you go to someone’s house — or have some other interaction with them — that might be the one time they deal with police, the one time they have to form an opinion,” Cameron said. “It’s your job as an emissary to treat them how you’d want to be treated, how you’d want your family to be treated, because that’s how they formulate the impression they have.”
More voices at the table’
The LGBT Network has embraced the inclusion of police in any discussion because, Kilmnick said: “Having more voices at the table helps in creating safer spaces and communities for all — and we applaud those working for change being so brave and bold.” That’s why his organization will invite uniformed officers to march next year in the annual Long Island Pride parade, he said.
“We understand,” he said, “that it still may not be easy to be out, even in today’s world.”
In fact, Mangi and Rhatigan said, some members of their organizations have asked to be kept anonymous because of those very fears.
Rhatigan, 39, has a wife and three kids and said one of the hardest days of her police career was sending a departmentwide email announcing the formation of the NCPD LGBTQ Society. “I knew I identified,” she said. “But, basically, I was outing myself to all 2,500 members of the department.”
She said she was surprised at the embrace that followed, comparing it to when she’d come out to her own parents.
“I think,” she said, “that when you’re in that situation, you’re always fearful how those around you will react. Kids are petrified to tell their loved ones, for fear of the reaction. Look at the suicide rates.”
The same is true with cops, Rhatigan and Mangi said. Which is why training and education is so important.
Mangi grew up in Garden City, graduated from Garden City High School, attended SUNY Delhi, and joined the NYPD as a housing cop assigned to the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.
His father, an accountant, had been a professional boxer. His two younger brothers are both married, have kids. One brother works in insurance, the other is a cop in the Suffolk Second Precinct and also runs a gym — where he’s trained, among others, former UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman. Mangi has a partner of 17 years.
Now on permanent assignment by the SCPD to federal Homeland Security Investigations, Mangi said being mentored by GOAL members made it easier for him to come out while with the NYPD.
With the SCPD, he conducts training sessions at the Police Academy at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood.
His 90-minute session covers LGBTQ issues, historical context including the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which followed NYPD harassment of bar patrons in Greenwich Village; procedural instruction on the reporting and investigation of hate crimes; even the meaning of words like homosexual, lesbian, gay, transgender.
He conducts an exercise in stereotypes, discusses homophobia, talks about how best to handle interactions between police and members of the LGBTQ community — things as simple as how an officer should address a person they’re dealing with.
“It’s a lot of common sense,” he said.
“I usually don’t show up at the class in uniform. I wear a jacket and tie. I don’t tell them I’m a cop. I usually don’t come out until about halfway through, then I tell them: ‘I’m a cop, a Suffolk County cop, and I’m gay.’ Then you see them say to themselves: ‘What? Did he just admit he’s gay and he’s a cop?’ I think it makes them rethink what they’ve been thinking.
“I think it works a lot toward acceptance.”