Nassau County police officers at a news conference in Mineola where...

Nassau County police officers at a news conference in Mineola where Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder announced the creation of the Nassau version of the NYPD's Hercules counterterrorism unit. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Nassau County police will begin deploying 20 uniformed officers or supervisors each day across the county in their patrol vehicles to act as a deterrent to criminals who may target high-profile locations such as schools and houses of worship, officials announced Friday.

The new initiative, which had a test run Thursday and begins countywide on Saturday, is known as the Overwatch program, and is modeled as a suburban version of the NYPD's highly visible Hercules counterterrorism team where intelligence officers, canine units, highway patrol and a small squad of heavily armed officers travel throughout the city daily.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the teams of four officers and one supervisor will be deployed across four quadrants of the county and will spend an equal amount of time in all areas, regardless of crime statistics.

"It's not about the high-crime areas. There's no over-policing," Ryder said at a news conference outside police headquarters in Mineola with county lawmakers and community leaders. "This is spending equal time throughout our critical infrastructure to protect those that come to pray; to protect those who go to school and to protect those that are at any kind of major event."

The officers involved in the program, officials said, will be taken out of precincts or moved from their regular patrols or special details. County officials insist the program will not result in higher overtime costs because of an increased departmentwide head count.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said Overwatch teams will drive with their lights on at or below the speed limit with the goal of being a visible presence at potentially vulnerable locations.

"We're going to be proactive," Blakeman said. "We believe that this high visibility will deter crime; that it will harden important assets such as our schools, religious institutions, shopping centers, and our communities. These are police practices that have been implemented in other communities throughout the United States. And we are now using them here because we believe that this is just another tool for us to be out in the community to be visible and to have resources available at a moment's notice."

Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she will closely monitor the program.

"If this unit is being used to address the increased threats across the country, then it's good to know that they would be equally protecting communities," she said. "However, the devil is in the details. And we would want to make sure they're not using this unit to increase surveillance of religious institutions, specifically, Muslim institutions. And we'd also want to make sure that they're not using it to criminalize students if they're going to be around schools."

Overwatch officers, Blakeman said, will supplement the department's 177 regular patrols and will allow teams to always be within 15 minutes of any location in the county.

"They will roam through these areas with their lights on and it will act as a presence," Ryder said. "They will stop at some [locations]. They will greet and say 'hello.' They will move on to others. Sometimes they'll double pass and triple pass. Constant and irregular patrol is how we offset what the bad guy is thinking."

The initiative comes during Ramadan and only days before Passover and Easter and on the heels of this week's shooting at a Christian school in Nashville that killed three students and three adults.

"We have to be cutting edge. We have to keep trying new things," Blakeman said. "So that things that happen in our education facilities; things that may happen in the shopping mall; things that may happen at a religious institution — that we minimize the risk. And that's what we're doing here."


 

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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