Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 09 March 2012 00:00
Valley Stream resident Milagros Vincente clutched her daughter as the Nassau County Legislature voted 10-9 to realign four of its eight police precincts on Monday, March 5. She echoed sentiments of dozens of residents, business owners and police in attendance that opposed the plan from its inception.
The plan will alter the First, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Precincts. The county has been trying to erase a $310 million deficit in 2012 and touted this plan as a step in the direction of eliminating it. In 2011, the deficit totaled $145 million.
“You’re hurting the residents of this county,” she exclaimed as the final vote came in. “This is a terrible and unwelcome change. This should have been tabled.”
The decision broke along party lines, with the Republican majority aligning in full strength, including much speculated swing vote Legislator Joseph Belesi, who is a former board member of the Superior Officers Association (SOA) and police sergeant. In tears, Belesi cast his “I vote yes. I vote aye” and quickly exited the legislative chamber, prompting boos from those in the crowded room.
“You’re a coward,” one resident shrieked as Belesi left the room.
Belesi was hospitalized Monday, Feb. 27 for heart problems, prompting presiding officer Peter Schmitt to put off the scheduled vote on the plan. With all nine Democrats in opposition, Schmitt did not have enough votes for approval without Belesi’s at the time.
“The plan is no more and no less than agreeing with Commissioner [Thomas] Dale that the number of precincts in Nassau County should be four,” Schmitt said.
The plan reportedly will save the county $20 million by cutting 100 administrative jobs and reassigning 48 desk cops to neighborhood crime prevention. Dale stated that all 177 patrol cars would continue to patrol the same communities.
“There’s no independent thinking on one side of the aisle up there,” PBA President James Carver said.
As the votes were cast, chants of “just say no” and “murderers” and “shame” echoed from the corners of the chamber. At one point, Schmitt scolded residents who heckled the dais.
“Those of you who are catcalling this legislature, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” Schmitt stated. “You’re painting a negative picture of Nassau County on television.”
Republican lawmakers tried to hammer home the fact that this plan will not impact public safety, which elicited angry groans from residents and cops in the back of the chamber.
“This is a joke,” one resident screamed from the front doors of the legislature.
The Democratic minority questioned why legislators were in the home stretch of approving a plan that was still in negotiation phases. Democrats blocked an incentive program intended to encourage higher-paid officers to retire since the plan has passed.
“Public safety is my utmost concern,” Legislator Rose Marie Walker said. “Every community will continue to have the same cars patrolling as they presently do. In addition, there will be 48 additional officers back on the street. Our residents are protected by police officers, not the building they occupy.”
Minority leader Kevan Abrahams expressed his thoughts, stating the plan “feels rushed, ill-conceived, and quite frankly wrong for Nassau County. I find it hard to believe that anyone up here can vote for a proposal knowing full well negotiations are still going on.”
The incentive program will be voted on at a March 19 meeting. Unless nearly 90 veteran officers retire, the county would have to lay off a greater number of rookies to achieve the same savings, Democratic county officials confirmed.
“Today exemplified the worst incompetence we have seen out of the Mangano administration with their ever-changing plan that would alter the course of public safety in Nassau County and the worst arrogance we have seen out of the Republican majority when they blindly voted to approve it,” Abrahams said.