After months of contentious debate, the most sweeping reorganization in the Nassau County Police Department's 87-year history officially began Monday with the merger of two police precincts.
The precinct mergers are a key part of County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to save cash-strapped Nassau money by converting four current precinct houses into the lower-staffed community policing centers. The other community centers will start operating later this year in Baldwin, Elmont and Manhasset.
Mangano's office estimates the plan will save $23.2 million annually. The independent Office of Legislative Budget Review puts the number closer to $18.5 million. The savings come from the departure of nearly 100 officers, including 35 supervisors, most of whom accepted a retirement incentive last month that reduced the county police force to 2,380 members.
Department leaders said the residents will barely notice the change. "The public will see no difference in the services provided by the Nassau Police Department," First Deputy Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said in an interview last week.
But legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who along with police unions was a critic of the consolidation, said residents who seek help at the community policing centers at night and on the weekends will feel the difference. "We thought it was a bad plan then, and we feel it is a bad plan today," Abrahams said.
The community policing transformation leaves many precinct services intact, the department says. The roughly 180 patrol sectors countywide, including about 22 in the Second Precinct and about 17 in the current Eighth, will remain unchanged. The public can pick up accident reports at the community centers, and in about two weeks the reports are to be available online. Police officers can fuel their vehicles there and pick up paychecks.
Other key functions, including the processing of people who are arrested, will be shifted to the Woodbury precinct. As a result, between 30 and 40 administrative personnel, including clerks and bookkeepers who generally do not interact with the public, are relocating to the Second Precinct.
As many as 10 officers will be on duty at the community policing centers Mondays through Fridays during general business hours; before the merger, the precinct would have had as many as 17. The centers' sworn personnel will include desk officers, two detectives on each of two 10-hour weekday shifts and a deputy commanding officer who will maintain an office there.
But during some overnight hours, only two officers will be stationed in the building to handle walk-in visitors. During those hours, people seeking to meet with a supervisor may need to wait until one is called to the center. Before the reorganization, there would have been as many as seven personnel on weekends, and as many as four at night.
The appearance of the buildings will change only slightly. Some desks and offices will remain vacant until specialized units are reassigned. Signs on the Levittown building read "Nassau County Police Department."
For much of last week, moving trucks shuttled cardboard boxes of investigative files and personnel records from the Eighth to the Second. Technicians redirected computer and phone lines, and desks leaned on their sides in hallways.
A satellite office of the department's Bureau of Special Operations, a SWAT unit that handles hostage situations and hunts particularly violent criminals, moved from a room in the basement of the Second Precinct to a suite of offices vacated by the Eighth Precinct's commanders. About 25 of the special operation officers will be deployed out of the Eighth. The headquarters remains in a building in Bellmore.
Test for commands, patrols?
Before the consolidations, the Second and Eighth precincts each had separate commanding officers. Now a single one, Deputy Insp. John Berry, is overseeing the Second Precinct and the policing center.
Police union officials met with department leaders about the consolidation at least a half-dozen times in recent weeks. At a news conference Monday, James Carver, president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file cops, said the plan requires a patrol officer to fill in while a desk officer at the community policing center takes lunch. "That's never happened before," he said. Also, Carver said there won't be enough desk supervisors to deal with the supervisors of patrol sector cars.
In response, Mangano spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles said, "All 177 patrols have remained in their current neighborhoods, 48 more police officers have been added to the patrol and taxpayers are no longer footing the bill for 100 unnecessary desk jobs."
With Joye Brown and Sid Cassese
NASSAU PRECINCT MERGER TIMETABLE
The Nassau County Police Department is about to launch a sweeping reorganization of its precinct system, reducing the number of full-fledged precincts from eight to four:
MAY 1, 2012: The Second Precinct in Woodbury absorbs the Eighth Precinct in Levittown, which becomes a community policing center.
* Dates subject to change
Source: Nassau County Police Department