The Lynbrook police chief, responding to a complaint, wrote in an email that he advises his officers to wear face coverings, but would not be a "mask Kaiser" in enforcing masks for officers who are dealing with the public.
Chief Brian Paladino was responding to a Sept. 28 email from Jim Burns of Long Beach, who was in the village evaluating restaurant space for lease. Burns complained about officers who were not wearing masks interacting with unmasked children while working dining enforcement detail on Atlantic Avenue last month.
The chief said he would remind officers to wear a mask, but noted, "I pick my battles with my employees and being a mask Kaiser with them is not one I think is worth waging at this time. I have great people that work for me."
He said 20% of officers previously tested positive for COVID-19 and 40% tested positive for antibodies, while they were strictly following the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Then magically like most everywhere in this state, the virus went away," Paladino wrote.
Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach said all village employees are advised to follow CDC guidelines and "wear masks at appropriate times."
"The safety of our citizens is paramount," he said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo enacted a state law in April requiring face coverings in public places and when unable to maintain social distancing. Enforcement by local officials can lead to a $1,000 fine, which can apply to both civilians and police.
Nassau County and Suffolk County officials said Thursday that officers are required to wear face coverings while out and interacting with the public when social distancing is not possible.
An official with the governor's office said Lynbrook police need to follow mask orders.
"The police chief is simply wrong on the facts: infection rates are down thanks to New Yorkers' hard work — not any supernatural force — and wearing a mask has proven to be one of the best ways to keep everyone safe, including his officers," Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said Thursday. "The police are not above the law, and Long Islanders deserve better than a law enforcement chief who peddles misinformation to justify disobeying public health rules during a global pandemic."
Cuomo on Thursday said mask laws should not be enforced selectively and said health officials could fine NYPD officers for not wearing masks.
Burns said he saw maskless officers high-fiving children and not enforcing any mask or social distancing rules.
"Am I living in a bizarro world and are we not in the middle of a pandemic? Why are these guys not modeling appropriate behavior?" Burns said in an interview Wednesday. "When people don’t follow orders, people die. They could absolutely infect someone, a kid who goes home to a grandparent. His excuse is the kids are running around. At least you do the right thing. You have to start somewhere."
Paladino said in a statement Wednesday that the email was "an emotional response to a historic year. A year where ALL cops have had to reinvent their learned behaviors and have suffered the frustration of seeing their hard work be unraveled by a pendulum swing toward pure lawlessness."
He said the village police force, which includes 48 sworn officers and seven part-time and full-time neighborhood aides, has seen an uptick in youth problems, including assaults, larcenies, criminal mischief, burglaries and robberies, "not to mention the roving bicycle gangs who have taken to the Village's main thoroughfares to slow traffic and cause auto accidents with their renegade behavior."
Lynbrook, which has a population of about 20,000, has had a total of 435 COVID-19 cases, or roughly 22 cases per 1,000 residents. The village is averaging fewer than one new case per day, according to state testing data. Nassau County has seen 2,200 COVID-19-related deaths. There have been more than 25,500 deaths statewide.
Other communities, such as Southampton Village, have been singled out by the governor's office for lack of enforcement.
Southampton Mayor Jesse Warren agreed with Cuomo and said the village police department could improve its enforcement efforts. He said officers need to wear masks while on duty and in close quarters.
"It does come down to each individual municipality and its ability to enforce the law," he said.
Paladino in his statement criticized Cuomo’s shutdown orders and limits on activities such as youth sports. Cuomo allowed low-risk sports, but limited closer-contact sports to practicing. Long Island district officials have postponed many sports until the spring.
"I take COVID-19 very seriously and quickly administered policies and procedures that mandated mask wearing and offered PPE to all of my cops," Paladino said. "Sadly, I think real science and common sense has been ignored by the State in order to politicize the disease and keep its citizenry afraid and dependent on government intervention to solve their problems."
Paladino said he agreed with Cuomo’s plan to "flatten the curve" to lessen the burden on the health care system, but "we achieved that in New York State by June."
"Instead of the State employing common sense and science to dictate policy by allowing a normal lifestyle for the less vulnerable population of the State to COVID-19, in order to gain herd immunity, while cautioning high risk populations to remain locked down to protect themselves, caused many to be skeptical of the Governor's messaging," he said in his statement.
State and national health officials have rejected the idea of herd immunity, which they project would drastically increase the death toll caused by the pandemic.
With Vera Chinese