A trio of Nassau County Democratic legislators Wednesday called for the police department to tap into a special $4 million fund to reverse the transfer of 45 plainclothes police officers to patrol duty, a cost-saving measure that has incited strong community opposition.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and legislators Seila Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) urged Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter to use the department's asset forfeiture funds -- money seized in connection with criminal investigations -- to put the plainclothes cops back on the street.
"The county executive proposed these reductions on the backs of those in our communities, the people that need these programs, need the protection the most," Abrahams said at a news conference in Uniondale.
The controversial plainclothes transfer included POP, or problem-oriented police, officers and a dozen undercover Gang Abatement Program officers assigned to the First Precinct, which includes Uniondale, Freeport and Roosevelt. Police said the move is a temporary measure designed to save $4.4 million in police overtime, but it has been roundly criticized by residents as a shortsighted move that could embolden gangs and send crime soaring.
Krumpter said Wednesday some politicians are "creating a public alarm" over the transfer.
"It's a matter of using the resources in the most efficient and effective manner," Krumpter said in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he's attending a police conference.
In the past two decades, Krumpter said, the department has made similar temporary adjustments about eight times.
He said the department estimates thousands of unfilled shifts, necessitating overtime to conform to minimum-staffing levels. The transfer will negate about a third of those shortages, Krumpter said.
"It's in nobody's best interest that we have cops working all that overtime -- they're gonna be fatigued," said Krumpter. "There's a financial issue, but there's also a public safety issue."
Krumpter dismissed the idea of using asset forfeiture funds. "You can't pay salaries of existing employees with asset forfeiture," he said.
Police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack estimated the forfeiture fund at about $4 million.
In the past, that money has been used for police programs. Last week, department officials said they would use asset forfeiture funds from the police and the county district attorney's office to reinstate a previously disbanded DWI enforcement unit after Newsday reported DWI arrests had dropped steeply.
In 2011, the department said it would use an estimated $500,000 in asset forfeiture funds to retest 3,000 forensic samples in the wake of the police department's crime laboratory shutdown.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said despite the transfers, the department still has 150 officers in specialized units working in all precincts.
"Crime is down 12% since 2011, down 10% this year, and at the lowest level since crime stats have been recorded in Nassau County," Nevin said in an email.
Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a statement: "I am not going to jump to criticize the Acting Commissioner for making an effort to cut millions in overtime costs by rearranging existing personnel. I have been assured that this will not impact police responsiveness and will continue to monitor this strategy."
Dorrie Petrone of the Uniondale Community Council Inc. said after a stabbing a few months ago on the border of Hempstead and Uniondale that undercover officers in the area stepped up patrols and issued 382 summonses in a month.
"It's very important not to lose that connection," Petrone said. "We know the MS-13 are moving right back in. We can't lose those police officers -- they're too important to their communities . . . The line of communication between the police department and the community is broken."
The Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Haitian Mafia, Salvadorans With Pride and other gangs have carved out strongholds in numerous parts of the county, including Hempstead, Uniondale, Roosevelt and Freeport. A majority of Nassau's shootings and homicides, many of them gang related, are committed in those areas, records show.
"When those gang members realize the plainclothes cops in the Gang Abatement Program are no longer doing what they used to do, it's going to get ugly," one police source said.
This month alone, police have opened investigations into at least three homicides with possible gang ties.Robert Brown, 16, was killed Friday by an unknown gunman who appeared to be lying in wait for the teen before shooting him in the chest in Hempstead Village, sources said.
In a separate shooting May 5, someone killed two New Cassel men as they sat in a car in front of a Belmont Parkway home. The source said that shooting is believed to be the result of a drug deal gone bad between an MS-13 gang member and Haitian Mafia gang members. No arrests have been made.