Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has called for an investigation into whether the use of a county police helicopter to give a Floral Park Village police officer an aerial view of construction at Belmont Park represents a “misuse of police resources," spokeswoman Christine Geed said.
Geed said in a statement that Nassau police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Curran had not been aware of the helicopter flight, which took place Sept. 5, four days before Floral Park filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court to try to halt construction on the Islanders’ $1.3 billion development.
Geed said Curran asked the police department to look into “this apparent breach of established police protocol by the Village of Floral Park.”
In a statement, Ryder confirmed the department is investigating the flight.
Stephen McAllister, Floral Park police commissioner, said in an interview that the village police department's request "for a bird's-eye view" of construction at Belmont was legitimate.
McAllister cited the need to develop a new emergency evacuation plan for Floral Park-Bellerose School, an elementary school that abuts the northwest side of the Belmont parking lot.
McAllister said village police previously had planned to use the parking lot in a school evacuation plan but weren't sure whether they could use it during construction.
“This was intelligence gathering, information gathering on our part, and it was a good use of police resources,” McAllister said.
The dispute over Floral Park's request for use of a county helicopter comes at a time of tension between the village, the county and state regarding New York Arena Partners’ plans for a 19,000-seat arena, 250-room hotel and 350,000 square feet of retail on 43 acres of state land at Belmont.
Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi said village concerns about the possible negative impact of the Islanders’ arena and retail development had nothing to do with their police department’s recent request to survey construction.
“We were in no way trying to do anything nefarious here,” Longobardi said. “This was purely a safety question, and I know the county executive shares our concern for the safety of the children."
McAllister said the county helicopter took a Floral Park police lieutenant and the new superintendent of the Floral Park-Bellerose School District, Kathleen Sottile, over Belmont for about 10 minutes and they took pictures of the construction.
Flightradar24, a global flight tracking service, shows the county police helicopter made several loops around Belmont's north lot around 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.
A spokeswoman for the school district said Sottile agreed that the purpose of the helicopter ride was to view the Belmont property to assist in planning for a temporary evacuation plan during construction at Belmont.
Ryder declined through a spokesman to discuss the flight.
In his statement, Ryder said only that the flight “was never authorized to include a civilian. The department is conducting an internal investigation as to how this violation of our rules and regulations occurred.”
McAllister said Sottile was included on the helicopter ride because “our evacuation plan is done in conjunction with the school, so I need her input to help me get my job done.”
Floral Park is suing to overturn the approvals for the Islanders' project and stop construction. The village says the public bidding process was tipped in favor of the developer, and the state has ignored "severe unmitigated traffic impacts and permanent harmful impacts to local community character."
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called the lawsuit "a stunt."