Proposed cuts to the Nassau Police Marine Bureau would place a heavier burden on towns' largely unarmed bay constables, raising concerns about water safety as the summer boating season nears.
The bureau, which patrols 225 square miles of waterways along both shores 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is one of several special police units targeted for reduction in County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to eliminate a $176-million budget deficit.
Redeploying those officers -- as well as some in the K-9 squad, highway patrol, gang education unit and more -- could save $11.5 million in overtime and through attrition, Mangano said in a March letter to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state watchdog that has taken over control of the county's finances.
But Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the roughly 45-officer Marine Bureau is already spread thin. The three boats it once commanded off each shore during busy summer months are now typically two. Reducing that to one presents problems, he said, especially since only Hempstead allows bay constables to carry firearms.
"That would be putting public safety on the waterways into jeopardy," Carver said.
Bay constables and harbormasters (used by the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach) are state-certified peace officers with arrest and citation power. They also aid in search and rescue, cleanups, and hunting and commercial fishing compliance.
A Marine Bureau redeployment "definitely would affect us," North Hempstead spokesman Collin Nash said. He cited the extra time it would take to transport a boating-while-intoxicated suspect to a police patrol car, rather than a nearby Nassau vessel, for processing.
"The bottom line is we're backup for" police, Nash said of the town's two full-time and five part-time constables.
Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter couldn't specify how many officers would return to patrol under Mangano's plan.
"We're very careful in any kind of reductions," he said. "And as with anything we do, it's our objective to provide the same level of service that the people in Nassau County expect."
In 2010, Nassau marine officers issued 604 tickets and answered 135 distress calls. They did not make any boating-while-intoxicated arrests.
In Oyster Bay, town bay constables issued about 300 tickets last year, and made two boating-while-intoxicated arrests.
Constables there and in Hempstead are unlikely to expand duties if the police presence is reduced.
"They would be hard-pressed to assume any additional duties," Hempstead spokeswoman Michele Sparaccio said of the town's eight full-time and eight part-time constables.
Oyster Bay, with two shores to patrol, has the most bay constables in Nassau, with about 25 full- and part-timers. Supervisor John Venditto has opposed arming them, and a town spokesman said last week the proposed Marine Bureau reductions haven't changed that.
But Nick DiBari, president of the New York State Harbormaster and Bay Constable Association, said that it's an issue of safety and credibility.
"If they look like a police officer, and are given the powers to do the job, I believe they should be armed," said DiBari, a Southampton bay constable.
He said Nassau's potential Marine Bureau cuts would mean "more of a workload and less manpower on the water."
Larry Weiss, a boating safety advocate often on the waters off Oyster Bay, called the town constables "phenomenal" but acknowledged cuts to police marine officers would be felt.
"I see that police boat and I feel good. I feel safer," said Weiss, a Plainview resident active with the United States Power Squadrons, a boating safety nonprofit. "To see less of them would make me uncomfortable."