Kathleen doesn’t just view her investigations as opportunities to hold people accountable for wrongdoing or to get justice for those victimized. She also views investigations as a tool for reforming systems and institutions that have failed the public. This forward-thinking approach has driven many of Kathleen’s groundbreaking probes, and it’s a prosecutorial philosophy that recognizes the importance of prioritizing long-term progress rather than one-time prosecution.
“Black Friday” Safety Reform
A fatal “Black Friday” stampede in 2008 at a local Walmart left many policymakers and law-enforcement officials scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make these annual events safer for the public. With no provable individual criminality committed on the part of those who played a role in the incident, most people figured there was little that could be done to hold anyone accountable or to force security reform on the business involved. Kathleen stepped in and was the only person who questioned the corporate responsibility of the powerful global retailer. She launched an investigation into the business’ protocols and safety plans that ultimately resulted in an unprecedented settlement with national implications: Walmart would agree to an independent safety monitor and an enhanced safety plan for large sales events like those occurring on Black Friday every year across the country.
When people assumed nothing could be done, Kathleen got involved and found an innovative path to large-scale reform. Because of her efforts, consumers around the country are safer and the tragedy in Nassau County was able to serve as a vehicle for change.
College Entrance Exam Reform
In the fall of 2011, rumors in several Nassau high schools began to circulate that for a high price, students could hire test-takers to sit for their college entrance exams. Honest students, educators, parents and many residents were all appalled at the allegations but few thought much could be done to teach the perpetrators a lesson and even fewer believed there was a chance that the schools or the national testing service companies would have any interest in reforming the system. Like in the aftermath of the Walmart tragedy, Kathleen felt that people were ready to chalk it up to an unsolvable incident that was unfortunately outside the bounds of anyone’s purview. So she stepped in.
Kathleen and her investigators heard the rumors of cheating and began building an investigation against the high-priced test-takers and the unethical students who paid them. Her investigation resulted in scores of arrests and sent shockwaves through Nassau communities and high schools across the country. But while Kathleen felt that sending a clear message to the students who cheated the system and their fellow honest classmates was important, her ultimate goal was to hold the testing service companies – ACT and SAT – accountable. Success and reform on this larger front, she felt, could level the playing field not only for kids in Nassau County, but also for honest kids across the country.
In the spring of 2012, under the pressure of a mounting inquiry from her office, Kathleen announced that SAT and ACT had agreed to adopt sweeping national reforms to their test security protocols.
When nobody was willing to do anything about it, when nobody thought accountability was possible, and when many people thought nothing could improve, Kathleen inserted herself and challenged the status quo to make this important process more fair for everyone. Kathleen’s college entrance exam investigation and fight for reforms earned national attention and in January of 2012 was the subject of a CBS News 60 Minutes segment.
Nassau County Crime Lab Reform
In the fall of 2010, Kathleen learned of a serious problem: the Nassau police department’s crime lab was being sanctioned for several violations of forensic testing protocol. Understanding that credibility and accuracy are at the heart of a fair forensic testing process, Kathleen moved quickly to demand answers. Over the next few months, as the scope and details of the police department’s failure became more clear, Kathleen would lead the county’s reform efforts by insisting that thousands of cases be reexamined, that the county executive shut down the existing lab, and that the county move toward a more modern civilian-run lab that meets the state’s forensic testing standards. The lab was shut down, the re-testing began immediately, old and pending prosecutions were reexamined, and the new state-of-the-art lab is being built.
Despite having no role in the oversight or running of the police crime lab, when crisis struck, Kathleen showed leadership in asking the tough questions, demanding tests to ensure the integrity of prior cases, and in ensuring that reforms were made to secure the future fairness necessary to the process.