The state will hold a park police training academy class this fall after a three-year lapse, but it probably won't yield enough officers to revive the July Fourth fireworks at Jones Beach.
There has been no class since 2008 because of budget cuts, and continuing tight finances will hold the new class to 30 to 40 cadets, which police unions complain is about half of previous classes.
Graduates will be on the job by Memorial Day, said Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Park police staffing statewide has been dropping, and on Long Island has dropped dramatically as officers leave for better paying jurisdictions in the metropolitan area or transfer upstate, where the cost of living is less.
Because of the staffing shortage, parks officials have not held July Fourth fireworks at Jones Beach for the last three seasons after doing it for 15 years.
Keefe said past experience indicates not all of the recruits will graduate. Those who do "will be assigned where the need is," he said. Long Island typically has been at the top of that list because of the number of parks here and the high percentage of officers who leave.
"There will also be retirements and resignations of officers," Keefe said, "so this is not necessarily going to get us to the level" needed to bring back the Jones Beach fireworks.
There are 207 officers around the state, including 50 on Long Island. That represents a 40 percent drop on Long Island over five years and a 31 percent drop statewide.
Despite that, Keefe said, "We've seen no noticeable change over the years" in the number of serious crimes.
But Sgt. Manny Vilar, president of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, said fights and other disturbances at Long Island parks so far in 2012 are up from 35 to 48 over last year, a 37 percent increase. And the total number of incidents requiring police intervention rose from 1,982 to 2,138 over the same time. He said the numbers would be much worse if officers were not working a lot of mandatory overtime.
Vilar said the union is opposed to the use of part-time "undertrained" security staff. "There is no substitute for police out there," he said.
"We appreciate the parks department finally making a commitment to the police force," Vilar said. But he said with 35 officers statewide eligible for retirement, it is only a first step in getting the force back to acceptable strength.
Troy Caupain, director of the Park Police Officers Association of the state PBA, said, "They're not maximizing the space in the academy because they could put on at least 70 officers," he said. "Forty officers is not going to increase our numbers at all."