Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey announced his retirement, Thursday. (Feb....

Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey announced his retirement, Thursday. (Feb. 3, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Lawrence Mulvey, Nassau's 12th police commissioner, was called upon by two county executives to reduce his department. He went down 200 positions under Thomas Suozzi; another 125 under the current county executive, Edward Mangano.

Mulvey - who did police budgeting during Nassau's fiscal crisis under Thomas Gulotta - said he had gotten making reductions with minimal damage to services down to a science.

For the first few rounds, he would hire small numbers of lower-paid new police officers and put them in high overtime spots. As the fiscal crises continued, he said, Mulvey turned to other measures, including moving officers out of positions that civilians now hold.

"The officers went out on patrol," said Mulvey, who said he came to appreciate the department's negotiated "minimum manning requirement," which mandates the number of precinct cars on specific shifts.

"It's not easy to manage, but it keeps politics out of policing," he said. "It's why we have a low crime rate and quick response times."

Mulvey also said he believed that officers are not overpaid. Some, such as those working DWI cases, earn substantial overtime because of time they spend in court, he said.

Why is Mulvey retiring? It's not the scandal at the crime lab.

It's Nassau's ever-tightening budget, which will get even tighter under a control board. "Future cuts are going to have to happen to make 2012 work," Mulvey said. "And those decisions should be made by the next commissioner, presumably one who will be here three or more years to see them through."

Mulvey started his career as a Long Island highway patrol officer, like his father, and worked twice for Nassau. First, as a patrol officer, who, after 11 years made sergeant; and later as precinct commander. He would later handle the department's budget and work as its liaison to a county legislature that included Mangano and now-Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt. He retired but returned when Suozzi appointed him commissioner.

Early in his career, Mulvey earned the Nassau police department's purple heart after being stabbed three times while on duty. "I saw the knife, but I didn't feel anything," he said. Mulvey went to the hospital and then home, where he sneaked into bed beside his wife.

"I told her I had worked late, which was the truth," he said. She found out about the stabbing from friends, who read it in Newsday. "She didn't trust me after that," he quipped.

Mulvey said he was proud of two accomplishments as commissioner: Efforts to get guns off the streets in Nassau, and putting a dent in the county's heroin problem.

"There are more guns out there now than ever," said Mulvey, who makes a point of shaking the hand of every officer who gets a gun off the street. As for heroin, "when we started, too many people were in denial," he said. "That's not true anymore."

His department came under heavy criticism for its handling of the case of Jo'Anna Bird, who was tortured and killed by her boyfriend as officers stood outside her home. Some officers later faced internal charges. "I will say that it was not indicative of the way we handle domestic abuse in the county," he said.

His biggest challenge? Dealing with the 2008 drunken-driving crash that severely injured Officer Kenneth Baribault. "It's very emotional, even now, when something like that happens to one of your officers," he said.

What's next? At some point, he said, he will retire to South Carolina, where he has a house. But not just yet. His more immediate goal is to aid a group working to raise private sector funds for a 7-acre, uber-high-tech police training facility on the grounds of Nassau Community College.