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Nassau police realignment plan goes to legislature

February 14, 2012 5:14:44 AM PST
Hundreds of residents, including dozens of off-duty police officers, rallied Monday to oppose a planned realignment of the county police department that would cut eight precincts to four.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, has argued that the changes are necessary to close a huge budget deficit, and he notes that it would be the first change in how police officers are deployed in the suburban New York community since the 1960s.

Acting Commissioner of Police Thomas Dale noted in testimony Monday before the county legislature's criminal justice committee that police tactics have changed drastically in the past several decades, including with the installation of laptop computers in all patrol cars and other improvements.

"Patrol cars today have become mobile stationhouses," he told legislators.

The proposed changes, which will be voted on by the full legislature later this month, are expected to save $20 million annually, according to Mangano, although since the changes have yet to be implemented it's unclear what the 2012 savings would total.

Dale, during his testimony, said the four facilities that would no longer operate as precincts would be converted to community centers, where a minimum of two officers would be on duty around the clock. He said there would be no reduction in the number of patrol cars deployed throughout the county, currently 177 per shift.

"It will not impact public safety," he insisted. "The only people who will notice the change are the criminals."

Despite the assurances, several community members expressed skepticism.

"I'm definitely against this conversion or closing of the precincts or whatever words they want to use," said Milagros Vicente, of North Valley Stream, who has organized a letter-writing campaign to oppose the changes. "From what I see, a lot of people are completely against converting or closing the precincts."

Nassau County, which in October passed a $2.6 billion budget that called for closing two police precincts, is struggling to close a deficit of more than $300 million after a state fiscal watchdog last year declared a fiscal emergency and instituted a wage freeze. The county sliced several hundred positions from its payroll last year in a bid to close the budget gap.

If approved, the precinct realignment would reduce the police department work force by about 100, officials have said. Each police department employee costs the county about $200,000 in wages and benefits annually.

A spokesman for the county executive said police spending accounts for 29 percent of the overall budget. The police department had 2,380 officers and 1,234 civilian employees as of Jan. 1. Mangano's proposal would cut 87 officers and 13 civilians, a police official said.

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