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Fledgling Muttontown force touts benefits

Muttontown Police Chief William J. McHale and Mayor

Muttontown Police Chief William J. McHale and Mayor Julianne W. Beckerman at the Muttontown Police Department. (May 21, 2012) Credit: Chris Ware

Muttontown Police Chief William McHale wears a patch on each uniform shoulder.

"Village of Muttontown Police NY," they read. "Est. 2011."

The fledgling North Shore department, formed in the wake of Muttontown's controversial break with Old Brookville police, began its second year June 1.

Village officials say the department has functioned effectively, saved money and minimized response times. Critics say it isn't efficient enough and that its formation ostracized Muttontown from its neighbors.

Exactly how well Muttontown police have performed is difficult to quantify.

Muttontown officials said they had "no documents" to address a Freedom of Information Law request for response times. McHale said the village does not compile those data but added that the times vary with a call's urgency and are on average "probably between two and three minutes."

The average response time for the Old Brookville Police Department, obtained through a FOIL request, for suspicious incidents throughout the seven-village coverage area was 4 minutes, 30 seconds between June 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the last year Muttontown was a member.

Officials from both departments warn that response times are recorded differently and cannot be fairly compared.

"We have our officers here in Muttontown, so when we get a call for service, our response time is significantly diminished," said McHale, adding that at least two police vehicles are on patrol at all times in the 6-square-mile village.

The village this past fiscal year saw just one burglary compared with four in 2010-11 with Old Brookville police coverage, according to Nassau County and Muttontown numbers.

Old Brookville police officials repeatedly declined to comment.

Some Muttontown residents at public meetings commended the visibility of the force -- nine officers, one lieutenant and McHale.

"I see them patrolling all the time," Susan Gleicher said. "I feel very secure."

Mayor Julianne W. Beckerman said another goal of establishing a police force was to reduce village police expenses.

In 2010-11, Muttontown paid $2.85 million -- 25.4 percent of the total paid by the seven villages -- plus $20,000 in headquarters costs to Old Brookville police, budgets show.

For its own department in 2011-12, Muttontown budgeted $2.48 million for operations and $367,000 in start-up costs, records show. It finished about $500,000 under budget. Its police budget is $2.58 million this year, an increase driven mostly by salaries and pension contributions.

Old Brookville police have suffered layoffs after Muttontown left, from 40 sworn members to 26. And response times in 2011-12 were 17 seconds slower than the previous year.

The remaining member villages -- Old Brookville, Upper Brookville, Brookville, Mill Neck, Cove Neck and Matinecock -- also have had to forgo plans to build a new police headquarters. And the fighting seems far from over.

The five-year joint police protection contract that began June 1 includes a call to "take all steps necessary, up to and including litigation" to ensure Muttontown satisfies financial obligations in the old contract.

The village also was sued by one of its own residents.

Pericles Linardos, a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, in May 2011 sought to annul the resolution creating the police force, saying village officials failed to follow federal guidelines for establishing a local department. A State Supreme Court judge in March denied his petition.

Linardos also criticizes the department's tactics. Old Brookville police, he said, have their own dispatchers and place patrols strategically throughout the villages. But in Muttontown, if all patrolling cars answer a call, "It's a gamble for the next person where those next cars are going to come from," he said.

McHale responded: "The courts have answered the challenges, and I think our village residents have answered resoundingly by often calling to say, 'We weren't really sure about this, but you people have been terrific.' "

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