New York Governor Nominates New Police Leader To Agency That Has Struggled To Diversify Its Ranks

FILE - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her 2025 executive state budget in the Red Room at the state Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Albany, N.Y. Hochul nominated Steven G. James, a former New York State Police deputy superintendent, as the top leader of the police force on Wednesday, which would make him the third Black person to hold the agency's highest rank (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
FILE - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul presents her 2025 executive state budget in the Red Room at the state Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Albany, N.Y. Hochul nominated Steven G. James, a former New York State Police deputy superintendent, as the top leader of the police force on Wednesday, which would make him the third Black person to hold the agency's highest rank (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has nominated a 32-year veteran of the New York State Police to be its new leader.

If the state Senate agrees, Steven G. James would be the second Black person confirmed to hold the rank of superintendent and the third to lead the 5,000-member force, which has struggled for years to diversify its ranks.

It is not immediately clear when state lawmakers will vote on his confirmation, but for now, James will lead in an acting role.

“I was very intentional in selecting a leader who understood, starting out from the very beginning, what it was like to be in the shoes of our state police. Someone who rose to the ranks, someone who has led with integrity and dignity," Hochul said at the nomination event near Albany, the state's capitol.

James, a graduate of SUNY Albany, has held various leadership roles over two decades, most recently as deputy superintendent for employee relations, according to the governor's office.

“This opportunity comes around once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. Governor Hochul’s nomination is my crowning achievement," James said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to bringing the State Police further into the arena of cutting-edge policing and to serving as a model agency.”

Harry J. Corbitt became the state police's first confirmed Black superintendent in 2008. Preston Felton briefly led the department as acting superintendent before Corbitt, but he was never confirmed.

Hochul noted the agency's efforts to become more inclusive, saying the force is trying to make it ranks reflect the entirety of the state.

The agency remains overwhelmingly white, according to data from July 2023, with Black troopers comprising only 5% of its 4,976 sworn members at the time, and about 7.6% members were Hispanic.

In 2021, several minority troopers told The Associated Press that discrimination was widespread within its ranks, despite the agency having been ordered to diversify by a judge in the 1970s. At the time, just 13 of the agency’s 2,712 troopers were Black, and the judge mandated that 40% of recruits entering the training academy be Black or Hispanic. The same judge dissolved the hiring goals in 1989 and the consent decree was lifted in 2015.

Last summer, the agency came under intense scrutiny after a trooper who is Sikh was barred by his supervisors from growing facial hair for his wedding, despite a state law requiring employers to allow most workers to follow the attire or grooming obligations of their religion.

The police agency also has a history of leadership shakeups. In 2022, then-Superintendent Kevin Bruen resigned after Hochul said he was being investigated for his handling of internal personnel matters. Steven Nigrelli, who had taken over as acting superintendent, resigned last year after Hochul rescinded his candidacy to permanently serve in the role following allegations he harassed employees, according to the Times-Union.

James replaces Acting Superintendent Dominick L. Chiumento.

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Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.