Controversial Nassau precinct closing postponed

An old sign attached to the building that

An old sign attached to the building that houses the 1st Precinct of Nassau County Police Department located on Merrick Road in Baldwin. (April 7, 2013) Photo by Steve Pfost (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Nassau County's final round of hotly debated police consolidations -- merging the Baldwin-based First Precinct into the Seaford-based Seventh Precinct -- has been postponed indefinitely.

And ultimately, the merger might never happen as planned, according to department officials. Flooding to the Seventh Precinct building from superstorm Sandy has led officials to reconsider how policing on the county's South Shore should be managed.

"It's a possibility that we may realign the South Shore among three precincts rather than two precincts," First Deputy Commissioner Thomas C. Krumpter said. "It may be that, at the end of the day, we build a new building at a better location."

Officials have no time frame or location in mind for a new precinct, he said, but a decision would "definitely" be no later than a year from now.

 

Not ruled out yet

The county hasn't fully ruled out the consolidation at this time, "but we're taking a look, in light of the fact that the Seventh Precinct, where it's currently situated, had floods that surpassed it during the storm," Krumpter said Thursday. "The buildings are older buildings, so we're looking at the locations."

The decision to postpone the consolidation was made a day earlier by Police Commissioner Thomas V. Dale and County Executive Edward P. Mangano.

The original merger plan, approved in March 2012 along party lines by the county legislature, was the most dramatic change in the Nassau County Police Department's 88-year history. Eight precincts were to be consolidated into four, with the closed precincts converted into lighter-staffed "community policing centers."

Opponents packed the legislative chamber in Mineola during the vote, hissing and catcalling, shouting "coward" and "traitor" at Republican lawmakers as they approved the consolidation plan. The opponents said the closures would increase response times, overcrowd precincts and jeopardize public safety.

Proponents said the closures save money for the cash-strapped county, whose finances are in state receivership. They say that the plan does not reduce the number of cops actually fighting crime because the number of patrol sectors has not changed. The county police district is divided into about 180 sectors, each with a dedicated vehicle on patrol within it.

The first three mergers are "working well," saving money without jeopardizing public safety, Krumpter said.

The Second Precinct, in Woodbury, absorbed the Eighth, in Levittown, last spring. The Third Precinct, in Williston Park, absorbed the Sixth, in Manhasset, during the summer. Four months later, the Fourth, in Hewlett, absorbed the Fifth, in Elmont.

Consolidating the First and Seventh, which combined serve nearly 307,000 people, had twice been postponed. It was originally scheduled for Nov. 1 -- three days after Sandy roared into Long Island.

"We knew the storm was coming. We weren't moving. We postponed it," Krumpter said.

The department in December again postponed the merger, citing the need for the county to dedicate itself to storm recovery efforts, including meeting strict deadlines for reimbursement by the federal government for more than $20 million of Sandy-related police costs.

A planned farewell ceremony at the First Precinct with current and former staffers was canceled.

"We were actually refocused on actually dealing with the aftermath of the storm -- and we're still focused on that at this point," Krumpter said. "Trying to do a merger at the same time as trying to do all the record-keeping related to the storm is a little problematic."

But even once that record-keeping is completed, the storm is causing the department to consider how Mother Nature affects its ability to police, he said.

"In light of the 100-year storm -- one of the massive storms in the history of Nassau County -- we're looking at things a little bit differently," Krumpter said. "Is this the new weather that we're going to deal with?"

 

Goal was saving $20M

The original consolidation plan was created to save $20 million annually, mostly in savings achieved by the reduction in personnel such as supervisors. If the last planned merger ultimately does not occur, the department would have to make up the $3 million or $4 million cost of additional personnel someplace else, Krumpter said. But he called that possibility a "worst-case scenario."

"It wasn't about closing precincts. It was about eliminating positions," he said of the consolidation plan.

Democrats who were opposed to Mangano's merger plan seized word of the latest postponement as an opportunity to again challenge the entire consolidation plan.

"The fact that he has changed a plan midway through -- it defeats the purpose of having a plan in the first place," said Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), whose district includes the downgraded Fifth Precinct. "If the objective of this plan is to save money, then we have to ask ourselves, 'Have we saved money?' And when we look at issues of crime not being properly addressed there's another cost to that -- an economic cost."

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