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Freeport mayor's security costs under fire

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick speaks during a community

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick speaks during a community forum concerning criminal activity and violent crime in the village. (Dec. 9, 2009) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, citing unspecified threats, has started carrying a gun, constructed a new security system at Village Hall, posted armed cops at village board meetings and had Nassau police install "panic buttons" at his home and office.

The village spent $16,000 of village funds to upgrade his office with new doors, locks and protective windows, a source with knowledge of village finances said. The exact municipal expenditure is not reflected in budget documents, the source said. Freeport officials have not responded to Newsday requests to see the expense documentation.

While critics, including a village trustee and police union officials, have called the security excessive, Hardwick, 53, defended the measures taken in the first two years of his four-year term.

"You can't just idle by and do nothing. There's too much going on in the world," he said.

Hardwick, who is paid a $120,000 annual salary, declined to detail the threats against him. He tied his gun acquisition to the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in which nine people were killed outside a Tucson supermarket. Hardwick received a permit to carry a concealed weapon two days before the Jan. 8 shooting, according to Nassau police records.

The mayor declined to say what kind of gun he owns and how often he carries it.

"I have an 11-year old daughter," he told Newsday. "I've got to take every precaution I can."

William Glacken, mayor for three terms before Hardwick defeated him in 2009, said he had considered increasing security at Village Hall after the 9/11 attacks, but he opted against it.

The new security measures send "a very negative image not only to the outside world but to the Freeport community at large," Glacken said.

Hardwick called attention to his security concerns earlier this year, telling a church group in a video posted to YouTube in February that his life has been threatened "seven times" and, as a result, "the mayor carries a gun."

Nassau police have an "open investigation into aggravated harassment against the mayor," Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said, declining to provide specifics.

Smith would not say how much police paid to install the panic buttons, which function as direct phone lines, or how often the department has responded to Hardwick's home or office.

Smith said it was not unprecedented for the police to install panic buttons when threats have been made, but he would not provide details of other installations.

Hardwick said that he does not know how much public money was spent on the security upgrade and that some of the materials were donated. He declined to identify the donors. The enhanced office security was paid for through money already in the budget, the mayor said.

Shawn Randall, president of the Freeport Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, said Hardwick is well protected without the increased measures.

"He has a great police department," Randall said. "What's he going to do, take matters into his own hands?"

Hardwick, who has worked as a plumber, assistant to previous Freeport mayors and a Nassau County deputy parks commissioner, was elected mayor in 2009. He lost -- as a Republican -- a 1994 Assembly race, then ran unsuccessfully on the Liberal Party line for the Nassau Legislature in 1997.

Now a registered Democrat, Hardwick lost Freeport races -- which are officially nonpartisan -- for trustee in 1999 and mayor in 2005 before defeating Glacken.

Governing bodies such as the Hempstead Town Board and the Suffolk County Legislature often have on-duty law enforcement officers at their meetings. Officers had never routinely attended Freeport Village meetings before Hardwick took office.

Last May, Hardwick ordered police to remove Freeport school board Trustee Ronald Ellerbe from a board meeting after the two men exchanged heated words about school and village spending.

In Hempstead Village and Rockville Centre, the village police chief is present and armed at village board meetings, but no other on-duty officers routinely attend, said officials in those villages.

Freeport Trustee William White last month won election while campaigning against Hardwick's increased security and the extra police presence at village meetings.

"Those officers should be on the street," he said.

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick

 

AGE: 53

YEAR ELECTED: 2009

TERM: First

PARTY: Democratic

PREVIOUS JOB: Deputy director, Nassau County Parks Department

 

UPGRADES TO SAFEGUARD MAYOR

 

New windows, doors and locks for Village Hall office

Two armed, on-duty Freeport Police officers at Village Board meetings

Nassau police-installed "panic buttons" at home and office

New York State handgun carry permit

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