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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

The story behind the Nassau plainclothes police decision is about 'getting through the summer'

Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams and, next to

Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams and, next to him, community activist Valerie McFadden look at names collected by McFadden of people killed by violent means at a news conference in Uniondale on Wednesday, May 29, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Here's the skinny on Nassau's decision to put plainclothes police officers back in uniform and back out on Nassau's streets.

Yes, the county's out to trim a police overtime budget gone wild. But Nassau's also trying to get through a summer when retirements of veteran officers and a later-than-planned class just starting at the police academy could leave patrols in a squeeze.

"There you have it, it's about getting through the summer," County Executive Edward Mangano said in an interview Wednesday.

"With vacations, and a minimum-manning requirement, there's a chance of not having enough uniformed officers to go around," he said. "The acting police commissioner came up with a plan to fix that."

That plan, which involved moving 45 officers from plainclothes cops -- including 12 with expertise in handling gangs -- to uniforms is projected to accomplish two things:

Eliminate a potential summer of so-called short shifts, when -- without the addition of plainclothes officers -- fewer uniformed police than needed would be available for patrol.

Slow a rise in police overtime that has been compounded by the loss of veterans and the wait for new officers.

Budgetwise -- in a county operating under a state control board that already is hard pressed to trim an operating deficit -- the move makes sense.

Last year, police overtime spiked 35 percent -- to $67.3 million -- compared with 2012. And the county's office of Management and Budget, in a report released last week, was predicting another $65 million in overtime for 2014.

That same report showed that -- so far this year -- police salaries are running $26.78 million over budget.

Thomas Krumpter, Nassau's acting police commissioner, said his goal is to slow that increase. But that would be impossible without the reassignments, which have generated criticism of Krumpter and Mangano from officers, community leaders and Democrats in the county legislature.

Krumpter said that without the transfers, it would have been impossible to cover 220,000 hours of lost staffing left by retirements.

"I can't go to the county executive and the legislature for that," he said, adding that the reassignments impact some 2 percent of the department.

"If we're looking at a short shift, the plainclothes officers will put on a uniform and get in a patrol car and get on the street," he said. "If there's no need, they can go back to what they are doing."

Initially, the department said it expected to send reassigned officers back to their posts in 2015. Wednesday, however, Mangano and Krumpter said it was likely the transfers would last only until November -- when the new academy class, which gra-duates in October, begins work.

And, they said, the department would continue to use the plainclothes officers' expertise -- including those reassigned from Nassau's decorated gang unit -- as needed.

Which is a good thing.

Some residents -- especially in neighborhoods hard hit by gangs -- are worried about potential rises in activity once word gets out that plainclothes officers are no longer in the picture.

Krumpter said, however, the department would continue to key in on potential trouble spots, and potential troublemakers.

"When it comes to gangs, we have a system that lets us know who, and lets us know where, and that does not change," he said. "It's a balancing act, but we can address the budget and protect our community too."

Stay tuned.

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