Trying for answers on precinct plan

The Nassau County Police Department's fifth precinct in The Nassau County Police Department's fifth precinct in Elmont. (Jan. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

What's the fight about?

Nassau, in what would be the most significant overhaul of police operations since the department was founded, wants to cut the number of full-service precincts from eight to four. The others would become "community policing centers" staffed by shifts of two officers around the clock.

Why cuts, and why now?

The cash-strapped county, which is under a state financial control board, needs to cut expenses by about $150 million. So far, Mangano and the police unions have been unable to agree on ways to do that.

Why is the fight so ugly?

From the county's point of view, police unions have blocked any significant attempt to reduce officers' compensation, or change work rules that Nassau contends make it hard for the county to manage its own department. The unions say the county is making unreasonable demands and ignoring concessions that their members made in past years.

Will the plan save money?

That's a probable yes because there will be fewer positions, along with the potential for reductions in overtime and other costs. And yes, that factors in the cost of salaries for recently hired top brass. But net savings remain a question mark because there's been no estimate of the costs of borrowing for retirement payments for officers who leave voluntarily, or necessary capital improvements in police buildings.

What about public safety under the new plan?

The administration says public safety won't be compromised, and that the current number of patrols will continue. The unions and legislative Democrats say the plan will jeopardize public safety and lead to longer response times.

How did the county determine which precincts to close?

Thomas Dale, the county's acting police commissioner, said several consolidation plans were under consideration when he joined the department. He said he engineered a reconfiguration that more equitably distributes the department's workload into four quadrants -- rather than the current eight, where three precincts handle the most work.

What about the extra police officers the consolidation will put on the street? That's a good thing, right?

It could be a mixed bag. It came out in recent hearings that half the 48 officers Mangano would transfer from precincts to patrol would have to spend some of their time manning the community policing centers.

What's a "policing center," anyway?

Dale said it was his idea. "I knew that people would hate to lose precincts, and I wanted to make sure they knew that a policing presence would remain," he said. "People will still be able to go in and get the things they would get at a precinct," such as accident reports. However, the centers will not process arrests or handle administrative duties.

So who is right in this fight?

At this point, it's a draw. The county has to cut costs. It also has to slow the increasing percentage of the budget that police costs consume. For decades -- under Republican and Democratic leadership -- Nassau did a poor job representing the public's interest in labor negotiations, resulting in the current wage structure and work rules. And Albany's refusal to modify binding arbitration laws has not helped.

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