Half of the Nassau County Police Department's precinct consolidation plan has been tossed out two years after the controversial merger effort was unveiled with the goal of saving $20 million annually.
The department has canceled its plans to merge the First Precinct in Baldwin and the Seventh Precinct in Seaford, officials told Newsday.
That decision earlier this month came about a week after County Executive Edward Mangano and the county legislature said they were reversing the merger of the Fifth Precinct in Elmont into the Fourth in Hewlett as part of a bipartisan budget deal.
The precinct merger plan, approved by the GOP-controlled county legislature in March 2012, represented the most dramatic change to the department in its history. Eight precincts were to be consolidated into four, with the closed precincts converted into lighter-staffed "community policing centers."
The proposal was the subject of scores of public meetings, during which critics charged the mergers would result in more crime, slower response times and increased police overtime. Police officials countered that the same number of police would be on patrol and crime would not spike.
Mangano and acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter touted the sweeping precinct reorganization as a money-saver, but the legislature's budget review office said last year that police overtime costs had neutralized the projected $20 million in annual savings, a contention Krumpter disputed. A Mangano spokesman did not respond to an interview request.
Krumpter said there are "no plans" to reverse the remaining mergers: the Third Precinct in Williston Park absorbed the Sixth Precinct in Manhasset and the Levittown-based Eighth Precinct merged with the Second Precinct in Woodbury.
Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown), chairman of the legislature's Public Safety Committee, dismissed the possibility of other precinct mergers being overturned. Dunne, whose district included the Eighth Precinct, said he's not pushing for it.
"I have no complaints from my constituents," Dunne said. "There hasn't been any disruption at all."
The merger of the First Precinct in Baldwin and the Seventh Precinct in Seaford was initially postponed due to flooding after superstorm Sandy, which ultimately sealed the merger's demise.
Krumpter said concerns about the impact of a natural disaster to infrastructure on the South Shore solidified the decision not to go through with the Baldwin-Seaford merger. The rollback of half of the consolidation, which was supposed to save the county $20 million annually, will be "cost-neutral," Krumpter said, though he could not provide details because he said they're still being ironed out.
Krumpter said the Elmont precinct, one of the busiest in the county, will reopen sometime early next year. He said officials were still finalizing plans but that any additional personnel -- including a new commanding officer -- would not increase overhead costs.
"That's how government works; it's give and take," Krumpter said of the consolidation reversal, part of a package of initiatives approved by the legislature, including funding for an undercover gang unit. "We're going to be able to open that precinct [the Fifth] and not have an impact on the budget. What changed in the county is we're in a position where we can maintain those savings. . . . Even though the consolidation is working, we're gonna look at the one place where it was the most difficult to manage logistically. The Fifth was one of the busiest precincts."
Crime up and down
The reversal of the Fourth-Fifth merger comes as the combined Fourth Precinct has seen year-to-date percentage upticks in three of 11 reported crime categories from 2013, including a 20.2 percent increase in stolen vehicles, a 12.8 percent increase in commercial burglaries and a 3 percent increase in felony assaults, according to department statistics.
Overall major crime in the combined Fourth Precinct, however, is down 11.2 percent when comparing Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 of this year with the same time period in 2013.
Krumpter said crime in the county is at historic lows -- down about 10 percent this year compared with last year -- and it's unfair to compute percentage increases because the number of crimes is so low.
In the First Precinct, major crime is down 11.7 percent comparing this year with 2013, but commercial robberies are up 94.4 percent -- almost doubling from 18 to 35, departments statistics show. All major crimes are down 24.6 percent in the Seventh Precinct, 6.1 percent in the Second Precinct and 5.7 percent in the Third Precinct.
Push to reopen precincts
Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), whose district includes the Fifth, has advocated to reopen the precinct. Solages said he put pressure on Krumpter, mentioning his concerns every time the acting commissioner spoke to the legislature. Real inroads were made, Solages said, when he "hung out" with Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker at the Belmont Stakes.
"We sat down, we broke bread," Solages said.
"I want to make sure this is not indefinite," Solages said of the reopening of the Fifth as a full-fledged precinct. "That was one issue that hasn't been ironed out. He [Mangano] said, 'I can't give you a date, but let's do a handshake.' I'm an attorney, let's put it in writing."
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email last night that Solages "had absolutely nothing to do" with the precinct negotiations. "This was an agreement negotiated between County Executive Mangano, Presiding Officer [Norma] Gonsalves and Legislator [Kevan] Abrahams."
Asked to respond, Solages said the issue wasn't "about one person getting credit . . . . This is a group effort."
James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, who has been a vocal critic of the consolidation plan, said he's hopeful that all the precincts will eventually be restored.
"At the time they thought that was a good way to save money," Carver said. "But if you want to ensure that crime stays low, that services to Nassau County residents are at the highest level possible, to maintain that, they should look at things that were done during tough times and see if they can be undone."