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Nassau police beef up security at county building

Members of the Nassau Police Homeland Security Unit

Members of the Nassau Police Homeland Security Unit at the entrance to the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, the first day of stepped-up security at the facility. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau police officials are beefing up security at meetings of the Nassau County Legislature, implementing bag screenings and adding more police officers.

The increased security, which was implemented at Monday afternoon’s legislative meeting at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, comes in response to a June shooting targeting elected officials at a congressional baseball practice in suburban Washington.

The new measures include a sergeant and two officers from the police department’s Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness Unit screening the bags of members of the public entering the meeting.

Nassau Acting Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said while there is no known threat to the legislature, after the shootings, he ordered a comprehensive look at security at public buildings in the county.

Ryder said the addition of metal detectors is also possible.

“We did a reassessment of all of our security around the county [and] this is one of the buildings that was a little bit on the weak side,” Ryder said Monday. “It’s more preventive . . . Bad guys need to know that they don’t get a free pass. We’re here.”

Four people were shot June 14 in Alexandria, Virginia, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), during practice for a charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

Authorities have said that James Hodgkinson shot four people at the practice — Scalise; Crystal Griner, a Capitol police officer assigned to protect the majority whip; Zack Barth, a congressional aide; and Matt Mika, a Tyson Foods lobbyist. All four survived. Hodgkinson was killed by police gunfire.

The Suffolk County Legislature has long required the public to go through metal detectors at its monthly meetings in Hauppauge, said Chief Michael Sharkey, of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, which provides security for legislative meetings. Two sheriff’s deputies are assigned to attend each meeting, Sharkey said.

“Just the mere presence of the security is a deterrent,” Sharkey said.

In a statement, Matthew Fernando, spokesman for Nassau Legislative presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said: “These security measures bring Nassau up to speed with other government buildings and courts around the country. Our goal is always to keep members of this body and the public as safe as possible.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said in a statement his caucus is “thankful” to the police for the “support and protection.”

“At the end of the day we care first and foremost about ensuring residents feel that coming down to the Legislature is a safe and open space where they can connect with their legislators and let their voice be heard.”

In addition to the two uniformed patrol officers normally stationed inside the Nassau meetings, another two officers from the department’s Bureau of Special Operations have been stationed along the aisles of seating for the public, Ryder said. The department is also considering adding metal detectors.

“We had discussions and are continuing to have discussions on whether it’s needed,” said Ryder. “We’re always out there. You may not see us, but we’re always in places that we should be.”

So far, the ramped-up security costs Nassau nothing, Ryder said, because the personnel detailed to provide security were already on-the-clock.

Ryder said security measures were also increased at other public buildings, but declined to detail any changes, saying only: “There are several that we have had discussions about and are changing, but we can’t discuss them, obviously.”

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