Nassau cops fired their service weapons during 17 incidents last year -- the highest number of officer shootings recorded in the county -- including seven involving animals that threatened a service member, records show.
Meanwhile, in Suffolk, the picture is far different. In 2012, cops had two discharges of firearms, both listed as "accidental." Records show that Suffolk police primarily use their service weapons to euthanize sick and injured animals, putting down 165 that year.
Nassau police have shot at 46 people since 2006, the year the county began keeping such records. In most of those cases, suspects were unhurt or suffered nonfatal wounds. In eight of those cases, a suspect was killed -- including five fatal shootings in 2011, records show. In Suffolk during this same time, police shot at 10 individuals, five of whom were killed, records show.
The number of officer-involved shootings in Nassau has risen each year since 2009, when eight were recorded. So far, there have been 10 such shootings in 2013 -- two involving animals -- including an Aug. 14 incident in North New Hyde Park in which police traded gunfire with a man who they say shot Officer Mohit Arora in his abdomen.
In Suffolk, officer-involved shootings of individuals have remained steady, with none some years since 2006, one in other years and a high of four in 2010.
Nassau's annual tally of shootings includes incidents in which suspects were fired upon, accidental discharges by officers, and shootings of animals. Nassau police did not have available records describing the circumstances of the shootings involving individuals, said Insp. Kenneth Lack.
"It's a combination of factors [that lead to officer-involved shootings]," Lack said he believed. "The most significant may be the number of guns on the streets, which lead to these types of incidents."
This year, Nassau cops recovered 345 guns from Jan. 1 to June 4 -- the last date for which the department released recovery data -- compared with 135 during the same period last year, a rise of 155 percent, according to records of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
In Suffolk County, police attributed the low number of discharges of service weapons in 2012 to restraint by officers.
"Our officers face many challenging situations on a daily basis and have exercised an extraordinary amount of restraint during these encounters," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber.
Unlike Nassau police, Suffolk service members use guns to euthanize animals in more rural areas, the department said, so officer-involved shooting numbers skew higher. In Nassau, by contrast, police usually discharge their firearms in incidents with animals only when the animal is threatening or dangerous. Injured animals are euthanized with ketamine by emergency service bureau officers.
Suffolk police used their service weapons to put down sick, injured or vicious animals -- mostly sick raccoons and deer struck by vehicles, police said. Police have shot at least 146 animals each year since 2006, with a high of 426 animal shootings in 2007. So far this year, they have shot 98 animals, records show.
"We use firearms to put animals out of their misery," said Suffolk Deputy Police Chief Kevin Fallon.
Suffolk SPCA chief Roy Gross said he has no issue with the Suffolk police policy.
"If an animal is suffering and not going to survive, it should be relieved of its pain and suffering as quickly as possible," Gross said.
Experts say police-involved shootings in Nassau could also be on the rise because less experienced cops are joining the force as veteran officers retire.
"The newer officers are better educated than many officers have been in the past, but they're also young and may not be seasoned to the point to where they can show the restraint of an officer with 10 or 15 years experience," said Joseph Pollini, a former commander of the NYPD's cold case homicide squad. He is also the deputy chairman of the Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
State law allows a police officer to use deadly force when the officer "reasonably believes such to be necessary for self-defense," or to defend a third person from what "he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force."