Nassau police officials plan to add hundreds of new license plate readers and gunshot detection devices to county streets, and expand the network of paid informants as part of a push to maintain historic crime lows.
The new initiatives, announced by Nassau County acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter at a briefing for department brass at headquarters in Mineola recently, would be funded through a total of $9 million in grants and county money and will be rolled out in the next few months.
With major crimes, which include homicides, rapes, felony assaults and burglaries, down about 8 percent last year, Krumpter said the department has to be agile and enterprising to prevent crime numbers from rising. Total crime was down about 1 percent last year.
“If you approach policing in the same way, year in and year out, you’ll get to a point where you bottom out, and you can’t decrease crime and crime will start to increase,” Krumpter said. “So you constantly attack.”
Nassau County already has about 50 license plate readers, which were initially used to alert officers to stolen cars and unregistered vehicles but have become a pre-eminent data-mining tool in investigations into everything from convenience store robberies to homicides.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini has secured a $1 million state grant to install license plate readers across the hamlet of Brentwood, where at least six gang killings took place last year.
Nassau’s plan calls for adding about 300 license plate readers, with 22 devices that can be moved for investigations and the rest affixed to utility poles or other structures throughout the county based on a map that the department’s intelligence unit is creating.
The cameras cost about $25,000 each and will be paid for, in part, with funding that is expected to include $6 million to $8 million in capital budget money from the community revitalization fund. The costs also will be paid with $800,000 in Homeland Security grant funds and money from the police department’s asset forfeiture pot, Krumpter said.
In addition, the expansion of ShotSpotter — the gunshot detection technology that relies on sound equipment to locate the origin of gunfire in high crime areas and is used in Uniondale, Roosevelt, Long Beach and Hempstead — is planned for Freeport and Elmont. A new cloud-based data system will allow officers from multiple departments to access the system in real time.
“That way when a shot goes off in Hempstead, the cops up in Uniondale will be getting those notifications,” Krumpter said.
But Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said license plate readers promote a “spirit of government intrusion in our lives” because police have virtually unfettered access to the information of drivers who are not accused of committing crimes, without having to get a warrant from a judge.
“The idea with automatic license plate readers is that information is being accessed by the governments without probable cause or any wrongdoing by the people that are having their information scooped up without the knowledge of the vehicle’s driver,” Gottehrer said.
Nassau police maintain that they have policies and procedures barring widespread access to the information and that it’s only accessed as part of active investigations. The department says it follows the recommendation of a state panel and keeps the data from license plate readers on file for five years.
Krumpter said the department’s new source-building operation is a top priority. It has started with three detectives in the Special Investigations Unit and it is slated to increase to up to eight full-time detectives by the end of the year.
Other department goals for the year include all officers, but specifically the Highway Patrol, focusing on aggressive driving, by writing more tickets for infractions like cellphone use, speeding and red light violations.
The number of moving violation summonses has increased about 28 percent from 2012 to 2016, when officers wrote 192,570 summonses.
“I don’t think anyone in this room can drive to work in the morning, drive home in the afternoon, and not see countless people actually texting and driving,” Krumpter said.
The department is also pushing to expand the use of a smartphone-based emergency alert system put in schools last fall, he said.
The commissioner, in his remarks to the brass, disagreed with comments from James McDermott, the new president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, who had said morale in the department is low, citing the decrepit conditions of some precinct buildings, loss of longevity pay — an annual stipend based on their years of service — and some old patrol cars as examples.
Krumpter said Nassau officers are among the highest-paid in the area, and stressed that the department rebuilt the First Precinct in Baldwin, spending $13 million, and two more precinct buildings are under construction. Krumpter also pointed to training and equipment supplied to officers, including the distribution of Taser guns, which the union has complained is not coming fast enough to all police officers.
The department plans to embark on the construction of a $40 million police academy this year, he said.
The commissioner said 60 officers have put in their retirement papers this year. He said “there’s no finer job anywhere” and if they’re not happy, they can leave. “If it’s a horrible job and if you think there’s something else better out there, then go too,” Krumpter said.
“Is that a way to motivate people, ‘If you don’t like it, get out?’” said Brian Hoesl, president of the Superior Officers Association. “Just because you make a decent salary, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be happy with your job. I guess his objective is to increase their morale, but I don’t know if he ever accomplishes it.”
At-a-glance: How Nassau police plans to keep crime down
1. Installing hundreds of new license plate readers
2. Adding new gunshot detection devices called ShotSpotters
3. Increasing network of paid informants
4. Expanding the Special Investigations Units to 8 full-time detectives
5. Cracking down on moving violations
6. Expanding use of smartphone-based emergency alert system