Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 10 February 2012 00:00
Carrying signs that read “Save Our Police Precincts,” “Precincts Save Lives” and “Keep Crime Out of Nassau,” dozens of police officers, firefighters and Nassau County residents converged on the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building on Monday, Feb. 6, to protest a committee vote on closing down four precinct houses and turning them into community policing centers.
Speakers warned of increases in both the workloads for detectives and response time for police officers on patrol if the proposed precinct closings are approved by the Nassau County Legislature. The precincts in question are the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Precincts.
The day ended with public comments made before the Public Safety Committee. Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt also announced that there would be public hearings on the matter on Monday, Feb. 13 at 11 a.m. in front of the Public Safety Committee and another hearing on Monday, Feb. 27 in front of the full legislature.At the rally, Jim Carver, the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association (PBA) president, said that precinct stations are more than places where people file accident reports. They are also places that receive hundreds of incidents “private in nature.” Carver was also critical of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano for proposing the closings while the county spends “tens of millions” of dollars to refurbish what Carver called a “political building” on West Street, directly adjacent to where the rally was held.
The speakers agreed that savings need to be made in the county budget. Gary Learned, president of the Nassau County Superior Officers (SOA), said the county should look at uncollected funds from traffic costs, which he said would save $44 million. Another speaker, Pat Nicolosi, a civic association leader in Elmont, said that “hundreds of millions” could be saved if the county would “get out” of both the road and assessment aspects of the budget, transferring those items, instead, to town governments. Nicolosi said precinct closings would increase response time from police officers, a situation that he believed would prove especially dire for Elmont, as he recounted crime problems in that village. Another Elmont resident, Vincente Miligros, said she had collected 78 signatures in an hour-and-a-half of petitioning, all by local residents who wished to keep her local precinct open.
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman also lent his support to the PBA, asking the legislature not to “sacrifice [this] fundamental service.” In all, Carver asked that the legislature “slow down the process until our questions are answered,” adding that that body needs to find “different ways of saving money.” He was also critical of the legislature for scheduling a meeting at, as he termed it, “the last minute” which he claimed was done to reduce any opposition presence at the committee vote.
County Executive Mangano issued his own statement on the rally, singling out two Democratic Party legislators, Richard Scannell and Carrie Solages, for “playing politics with public safety.”
“I refuse to play politics with public safety,” the statement read, claiming that the PBA’s opposition is, in part, political in nature. “I understand why the PBA opposes my plan that reduces costly police overtime and eliminates unnecessary administrative positions, saving residents millions in higher taxes. I don’t understand why a few legislators are opposing saving residents up to $20 million. One has to question whether the PBA’s $600,000 in political contributions has something to do with their fear-mongering approach to the issue.
I had a choice. I could raise property taxes 19 percent or I could cut spending, including a long overdue reorganization of the police department. I chose to cut spending because I will not raise property taxes in this economy. The police reorganization plan takes cops from behind desks and reassigns them to community policing while keeping the same number of patrol cars on our streets.
“Residents should not be fooled by the PBA’s scare tactics,” the statement continued. “When you dial 911, the call goes to a 911 Call Center in New Cassel, then to the police car in your neighborhood. That will not change under this plan as all 177 patrol cars remain in their current neighborhoods. The three-dozen police officers earning six-figure salaries that staff administrative desk jobs in the back office of the police precinct will now be moved. Currently, these officers are restricted by contractual rules from leaving their position to assist the public. They must man these positions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and do not have police cars at their disposal. This plan consolidates these administrative desk positions within four precincts while keeping all eight current buildings open—four as precincts and four as Community Policing Centers [“COP Plan”].
“In order to change the status quo, Nassau legislators must stand up to the special interests groups,” the statement concluded. “I trust that a majority of Nassau County Legislators will do so, as we must protect both public safety and family budgets.”