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Gov. Cuomo visits Hempstead, announces plan to bolster police presence

In an effort to address pervasive gang violence in the Village of Hempstead, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and other county officials to discuss short- and long-term prevention strategies. Credit: News 12 Long Island

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday announced a comprehensive plan to combat gang violence in Hempstead Village, including patrols of state troopers and Nassau police officers, while acknowledging the recent arrests of five Hempstead police officials has impeded the crime fight. 

Cuomo met privately with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan at the Hempstead Public Library Tuesday afternoon to discuss plans for the state and county to assist the village police department, which has seen five of its members, including the police chief, indicted on criminal charges since late last year.

"Obviously, it hasn’t been helpful," Cuomo, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said of the arrests. "Our challenge is, how do we go forward, and given the circumstances that we’re facing and given the circumstances of the police department, how do we handle the situation? That’s why Nassau County’s going to be supplementing, the State Police are going to be supplementing the local police agency, and we’re going to be doing more training, more sophisticated policing strategies, more technology, both with the existing police force and as a joint effort."

Cuomo, who called Hempstead's crime issues "an escalation that's troubling," did not provide a dollar amount in funding for the village. But he said the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services will provide training for Hempstead cops, and the state's Gun Involved Violence Elimination program, known as GIVE, could help with funding for other crime-fighting initiatives such as license plate readers, video cameras and social media analysis.

"More police in the community — in cars, with eyes, available to respond — that's going to start immediately," said Cuomo, who set a six-month deadline for a long-term plan for fighting crime in the village. 

Cuomo's appearance in Hempstead follows a request from Curran for help from the state to stem rising crime in the 55,000-resident village. Hempstead Village has already recorded six homicides this year — up from the four in all of 2018. And police have attributed a rash of recent shootings to gang infighting, including an alleged gang shooting early Tuesday morning. 

“I want to emphasize that this is real partnership between the state, county and the village for our shared goal to make sure our children can grow up in a community free of fear of gun violence and crime,” Curran said Tuesday. 

The plan calls for two patrol cars each from Nassau police and State Police. Each car will have two uniformed officers inside, patrolling the village alongside Hempstead police, for the next month, officials said. A State Police Mobile Command Center has also been deployed to the village to oversee operations.

Hempstead Village Trustee LaMont Johnson said the additional county and state resources should help the village combat gang violence.

"People are very concerned, because as you well know, bullets don't have a name," he said.

Ryder, who helped devise the plan to crack down on crime in the village and instituted an initiative earlier this year that resulted in some 200 arrests, has said the extra enforcement is imperative to contain the violence and prevent it from spreading to other communities. 

Hempstead's Assistant Police Chief Kevin Colgan said he welcomes the assistance from the county and state to his 113-member force.

"The recent homicides are a concern and we want to do the best we can," said Colgan, adding that he doesn't see any morale issues due to the arrests of police officers and has no qualms working with an indicted chief. "I'm comfortable with my situation."

Hempstead Village Police Chief Paul Johnson is the fifth Hempstead police officer indicted on state corruption charges since last November. Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of tampering with public records and grand larceny as part of an alleged ticket-fixing scheme.

Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan defended Johnson on Tuesday, saying he has the presumption of innocence. 

“We're aware of the fact that there were just too many guns on the street, too many shots fired," Ryan said. "We have too many homicides. It saddens us, so whatever we can do to work together to make this a better community is what we are going to do.”

Ryan added: "With the state’s help now, we’re very optimistic things will improve. We have an excellent police department." 

Then turning and looking directly at Cuomo, Ryan said: "We could use some more money.”

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