The state is adding more police officers and unarmed rangers to patrol Long Island's beaches and other parks this summer than last year, but police unions say the rangers will endanger themselves and the public.
"It's a very good year for our police force, in that for the first time in five years we graduated 36 police officers from our academy," parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said Thursday. Thirteen of them have been assigned to the Island.
And Harvey said the uniformed officers will be assisted by 40 more rangers than last year.
While the unions are happy about the first police academy class since 2008, they say the money for the rangers should instead have been spent on additional uniformed officers.
The rangers' "traditional functions have been described as prevention and control of forest fires and conservation of fish and wildlife, not law enforcement," said Manuel Vilar, Police Benevolent Association of New York State president. "It is essential, for the safety of park patrons and employees, that appropriately trained police officers are prepared to ensure that a day at the beach does not result in a melee, injury or tragedy."
Vilar added that "when tens of thousands of people spend the day in the sun, judgments can be impaired, and disagreements have the potential to quickly escalate into volatile confrontations. This plan does nothing to boost public safety."
Harvey said rangers in two categories, forest and public safety, have worked for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for years. This year there will be 130, up from 90 last year, working primarily on the Island and in New York City.
"They are peace officers," she said. They receive four weeks of training to qualify under state law as peace officers and then get additional training for their state parks role. "They can issue citations and they can make arrests, but they probably won't make arrests" because they are unarmed. Harvey said most arrests would be made by park police officers who will be paired with rangers.
"They are a supplement to our police officers," she said, and not designed to replace them.
Harvey said to further ensure public safety, as in the past, the State Police will back up the park police when necessary, such as at large events like the Memorial Day air show and summer concerts at Jones Beach.
The seasonal rangers who are already trained will begin work this weekend, Harvey said, and the others will be patrolling by July.
The union said the Long Island region, with 27 parks, is the state's largest.
The state said the officers from the academy class will bring the number on the Island from 50 to 61, taking into account resignations and retirements.