The Nassau police department Monday is reopening its Fifth Precinct in Elmont, which had been closed nearly two years ago as part of a controversial precinct realignment plan that was to save the county $20 million.
The precinct merger plan, approved by the GOP-controlled county legislature in March 2012, called for the eight precincts to be consolidated into four, with the closed precincts converted into community policing centers operated by skeleton staff.
The new Fifth Precinct, which will be headed by Deputy Insp. James Bartscherer, will not cost any additional funds to reopen, said acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
The move is more about allaying lingering concerns that the precinct closures would bring an increase in crime and hurt community and police relations, Krumpter said.
"History will show and demonstrate that the closing of the precinct had no impact on public safety," said Krumpter, who worked at the Fifth Precinct as a patrol officer. "The police officers are very excited about it reopening. They take a great deal of pride in working in that precinct. It's home."
Last year, crime dipped 10 percent over the previous year in areas of the county patrolled by Nassau police.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year, total crimes are up 1.6 percent in the Fourth Precinct -- which currently includes the area covered by the soon-to-be opened Elmont precinct -- compared with the same time period last year, according to department statistics.
But major crimes -- including murder, rape and robbery -- are down 7.4 percent from 375 through March 31, 2014, to 347 this year.
In the same time period, commercial robberies went from 14 in 2014 to 20 this year, while felony assaults rose from 27 to 28 and stolen vehicles moved from 43 to 46. Residential burglaries decreased from 53 to 38.
County Executive Edward Mangano and the legislature announced in October they were largely scrapping the merger as part of what they called a bipartisan budget plan: The First Precinct in Baldwin and the Seventh Precinct in Seaford wouldn't merge, and the merger of the Fifth and Fourth, in Hewlett, would be reversed.
The estimated $20 million in savings was eaten up by police overtime, according to a report last year from the legislative budget review office. Police officials disputed that.
In an email statement, Mangano said, "Fighting crime has much less to do with buildings."
"Moving some administrators back to the Fifth Precinct satisfied some legislators' perceptions while maintaining savings and moving taxpayer savings initiatives forward in a bipartisan fashion," he said.
Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), who advocated aggressively for the busy precinct -- which abuts Queens -- to reopen, said constituents had complained that they waited longer for officers to arrive for assistance -- assertions the police department denies.
"I'm happy that we prevailed," Solages said. "There was really no cost savings . . . This challenged the relationship -- the officers were less visible. You can't deter crime if you don't have a visible presence."
Krumpter named Bartscherer, a 29-year department veteran, as the Elmont facility's new commanding officer in January. Bartscherer, who most recently worked as the deputy commanding officer in the Second Precinct in Woodbury, said he worked as a patrol sergeant in the Fifth Precinct earlier in his career.
"We're hopefully going to continue to build the good rapport we have right now with the community and direct our officers in the most effective way to make the community safe," Bartscherer said. "The community is our strongest ally. If they keep us informed, it helps us."