Marinela Casas is the first Latina woman to serve as a Nassau County Police Department assistant commissioner. The 43-year-old doesn’t take the distinction lightly.
“If you’re asking me about my heritage, my heart and what I am passionate about, it’s very important for people to understand the value of Latinos and immigrants,” Casas said.
Through her position, she said she hopes to inspire other Latinos and show students and families that, regardless of whether they were born in the U.S., there is a path to success.
Casas’s job is the highest civilian position in the NCPD. Her role as assistant commissioner will involve serving as a community liaison, specifically through the Problem Oriented Policing program, also known as POP.
“Engagement is one of the basic principles of the Nassau County Police Department,” Casas said. The POP program focuses on maintaining relationships with residents in the community so people come to the police before problems fester and turn into bigger crimes.
Six months ago, Casas welcomed a baby girl. Her first day as assistant commissioner was her first day back at work from maternity leave. She said she is energized and eager to connect deeply with Nassau County residents. She added that she never imagined that her career would involve police work.
Casas was 5 years old when she left her hometown of Santiago, in the Dominican Republic, to join her mother in Freeport. Growing up in the village, she learned English quickly while attending Columbus Avenue, Archer Street and Giblyn elementary schools, Dodd Middle School and Freeport High School.
In 1992, she graduated from Freeport High with honors and went on to attend Nassau Community College and the University of Virginia. Later she earned her master’s degree in public administration, with a concentration in social policy and administration in government, from New York University.
“I love Freeport,” Casas said with a smile. “I think it poignant that 17 to 18 years later, here I am the assistant commissioner. It’s just very interesting that what you put out there out in your life and in your career starts to germinate and come back to you in ways you wouldn’t expect.”
After college, Casas worked as a case manager for foster care and emotionally disturbed children at St. Christopher Ottilie in Sea Cliff. Through her work, she quickly became an advocate for education, health and community programs. Her advocacy work led to a job with then Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, from 2002 to 2009. Suozzi is now a congressman.
“I certainly learned a lot by watching him tackle problems,” Casas said. “He just was someone who you could see was passionate about helping people and how government can make a difference in people’s lives.”
For the past eight years, Casas has been the Long Island representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, working closely with community and municipal leaders across Long Island. Her work pulled her away to Albany often, so she is excited, she said, to be back home full-time on the Island in her new job.
“I’m home,” she said. “I’ll be closer to family and friends again.”
Hitting the ground running, she has immediately started to increase outreach in communities across Nassau. She is also working alongside Patrick Ryder, the police commissioner, to form the Commissioner’s Community Council, a task force that will establish committees in each of the 19 legislative districts. The council will address the opioid epidemic and gang violence in a targeted approach to each neighborhood.