Mulvey reflects on job as Nassau's top cop

Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey talks about his time serving the public. Videojournalist: Howard Schnapp (March 30, 2011)

Nassau's 12th police commissioner leaves the job this week proud of his record of reducing crime but disappointed by a scandal-scarred crime lab and a poor response to a domestic violence case that turned deadly.

And he is tired.

"You need a person who is full of vim and vigor and I'm kind of burning out at this stage," said Lawrence W. Mulvey, 60, who has recommended a permanent successor to county officials but wouldn't say who.

But the recent deaths of two officers have made the last two months of Mulvey's tenure heartbreaking.

In February, Highway Patrol Officer Michael Califano died when a trucker slammed into his police car -- the first line-of-duty police death in the department since 1993. And about five weeks later, a plainclothes officer, Geoffrey Breitkopf, was killed by another officer in an accidental shooting.

Mulvey was there when the families learned the news. "To see them suffer, and the pain -- not only the family but their fellow officers, there's no doubt that that was really, really tough," he said.

Earlier this week, Mulvey stood in his Mineola office, sorting through confidential papers destined for shredding. Off his walls and shelves came mementos: the departmental Purple Heart he earned as a patrolman when a suspect stabbed him in 1981; the shield belonging to his dad, a state parkway officer who died in 2001.

In his nearly four years as commissioner, he was proudest of cutting gun violence and seeing crime go down. Major crime was down 11 percent in the first three months of this year over the same period last year. An electronic system of monitoring gunfire has been installed in several high-crime neighborhoods.

But the lab remains a disappointment. It was put on probation in December by a national accrediting group because of sloppy practices. Already, a judge has overturned a drunken driving conviction because of the questions raised.

The legislature's presiding officer publicly told Mulvey the episode is "a crisis of confidence in you." The state inspector general is investigating the lab.

Mulvey says he believes the lab's contested drug testing will ultimately "turn out to be fine." He contends he was never briefed about the lab's troubles, which date back to 2006.

"I can tell you with absolute certainty -- and I'd be happy to take a polygraph -- that I had no knowledge of the prior issues with the lab," he said.

Mulvey concedes some might believe lab woes led him to retire -- "that's not the truth" -- but Mulvey said he told County Executive Edward Mangano last September about his intentions.

His other major regret, he said, was the department's failure to properly follow up on repeated domestic violence calls leading up to the March 2009 murder of Jo'Anna Bird of New Cassel by her estranged boyfriend.

He said several officers were punished in that case and that other officers' cases were pending.

A search committee is looking for a permanent successor. Mulvey is preparing for retirement, where he hopes to golf, spend time with his family and raise funds for a police facility.

"There comes a time when you have to get new blood to come in and reinvigorate the organization," he said, "and the time for me is right now."

With Bill Murphy

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