Nassau officials are exploring a plan to bring in the New York State Police to patrol Hempstead Village amid concerns about an uptick in gang-related shootings in a place where the sitting police chief and several other police officials have been indicted on criminal charges in recent months.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said a greater police presence is needed to deter gang crime in the village of 55,000 people where a series of fatal shootings this year, apparently the work of warring factions of the Crips, Bloods and 18th Street gangs, have further shaken community confidence in the beleaguered Hempstead Police Department. State Police would work with both Nassau police and Hempstead officers, officials said.
“They’re very proud people, they want to stand up for what they do and they’re good cops …” Ryder said of the Hempstead Village Police Department. “We’re going to send in extra resources.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, in recent conversations with Ryder, stressed the need to do more to help the village contain its crime problems, Ryder said. She contacted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office to discuss solutions, including having state troopers patrol the village.
Curran, in an interview Thursday, said her staff reached out to the governor’s office and additionally instructed Ryder to provide technology and other resources for the village department.
“I reached out to Gov. Cuomo and we are working on a partnership between Nassau County and the State Police to provide additional resources to combat crime in the village,” Curran said. “My concern is for the residents of the village, that they’re kept as safe as we can possibly keep them. I think of children growing up in the village and I want to make sure they’re all safe.”
Cuomo has recently directed State Police patrols in communities hard-hit by crime in recent years, including Brentwood and Central Islip, where local officials struggled to control MS-13 violence.
“New York has long been deeply engaged with local stakeholders to help find a solution to the senseless violence plaguing communities on Long Island,” Cuomo spokesman Don Kaplan said in an email. “We welcome any opportunity to offer any support or resources to our law enforcement partners that would put an end to this horrific and unacceptable situation.”
Already this year, Hempstead Village has recorded six homicides, almost half of the 14 killings in the entire county of 1.3 million residents. The village had four homicides in all of 2018.
The number of shootings has also increased, Ryder said.
He said he’s concerned the Hempstead violence could spill into other communities, citing a recent nonfatal shooting in Roosevelt that involved Hempstead residents.
“There’s no lines in bad guys’ worlds; They don’t know this is the border of Hempstead, this is the border of Uniondale, or Westbury or West Hempstead,” Ryder said. “They know, ‘That’s where I want to go do what I want to do, crime-wise.’ ”
In March, unnerved following three daylight homicides in the village, authorities launched a crackdown dubbed the “Hempstead Initiative,” which has resulted in 200 arrests, the seizure of five illegal handguns, heroin and cocaine. The coalition of law enforcement included village, county, state and federal forces.
But violence persists. Last week, 36-year-old Hempstead resident Paul Larue was fatally shot at 2:30 a.m. as he sat in a car in the village. No arrests have been made, but Ryder said investigators have “some real promising leads” on that homicide and other recent shootings in the village.
County officials also want to provide funding to the village officers for more equipment such as license plate readers and Taser guns.
Nassau Legis. Siela Bynoe, who represents parts of Hempstead Village, said she and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams are working to secure more than $450,000 in Community Revitalization Program funding to pay for the Tasers and more license plate readers in the village. She said safety concerns she heard from residents, which she brought to Curran and Ryder, were the impetus for the recent law enforcement crackdown.
“Any time there’s internal instability it warrants the question of whether it affects performance,” Bynoe said. “I definitely have some level of concern, but I speak regularly with village officials who think it’s not impacting their ability to provide law enforcement protection to its residents.”
She added: “The ultimate goal is for people to feel safe in their community and their homes.”
A central part of Nassau’s outreach to Hempstead, Ryder said, in addition to cracking down on crime and quelling community concern, is making the Hempstead police force feel support during what might feel like turbulent times.
“Anybody needs help when you’re struggling a little bit,” Ryder said. “Look, the [Hempstead] police department is a good department. Again, I don’t know what the deal is with indictments or not — not my business. What I do know is, if the community starts to lose faith, they’re going to need to see rebuilding.”
The approximately 120-member Hempstead Police Department is autonomous, responsible for patrolling the 3.7-square-mile village. Meanwhile, the Nassau County Police Department patrols the majority of the county, except areas with their own police departments, including the 18 villages and two cities. Nassau police, however, investigate all homicides in the county, and work with Hempstead Village police on a variety of special investigations with plainclothes and undercover officers, including gang crimes.
“I think we need to have more presence with them,” said Ryder, referring to the village police. “We cannot go into Hempstead without them. And that’s very clear because that’s their village, it’s their jurisdiction. We stand with them and we’ll work with them. When we send resources in, we’re going in with Hempstead’s OK, Hempstead’s in agreement.”
Representatives for Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan and the police department did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Hempstead Police Chief Paul Johnson was the fifth Hempstead police officer indicted on state corruption charges since last November. Johnson pleaded not guilty in May to charges of tampering with public records and grand larceny as part of an alleged ticket-fixing scheme.
Last November, Police Chief Richard Holland pleaded not guilty to bribery for allegedly paying former village trustee Perry Pettus for voting to support his promotion. Pettus pleaded guilty in June to a slew of corruption charges, including allegations that he extorted Hispanic businesses in the village.
Village officials have said both Johnson and Holland were placed on modified administrative duty with pay.
Then-Assistant Police Chief Patrick Cooke, named the top cop after Johnson and Holland were indicted, retired abruptly in June, apparently leaving Johnson to continue to lead the department.
“I believe Chief Johnson is still in charge,” Ryder said. “I think he’s still present there. And when we have issues, we reach out and talk, crime issues.”
Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, said in an email Thursday: “The District Attorney’s office convicted Perry Pettus for his criminal abuse of the Hempstead police department, five cases are pending against senior Hempstead police officials and officers, and our investigations are ongoing. The people of Hempstead deserve a well-run police department to keep them safe, and law enforcement and community collaboration is essential to restore public confidence.”
Ryan, the village mayor, was at a news conference where some community members criticized Singas for prosecuting Johnson, and said he “absolutely” stands by Johnson and Holland.
Ryder, who did not criticize Johnson and emphasized that the county police department actively works with Hempstead Village officers daily, acknowledged it’s “harder for him to do his job” as a result of the looming criminal charges.
“We want the people in the county to know that Nassau County is concerned, and we’re going to do what we can to assist them and work with them to make sure that the trust is rebuilt,” Ryder said of Hempstead Village. “If you lose a community, you might as well close up shop.”