In a local battle that could reverberate in the gubernatorial race, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy on Monday attacked a group of county legislators and the Suffolk PBA for using what he called "scare tactics" to inflate crime statistics to try to secure more taxpayer money for police.
The comments by Levy, who's running for the Republican nomination for governor, came as county Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches) accused Levy of ignoring a recent rise in violent crime in their areas.
In a news conference last night outside the Seventh Precinct in Shirley, the lawmakers and about 20 community leaders said Suffolk police have redeployed cops from the Brookhaven precinct to "hot spots to address the rise in violent gang crime in Brentwood, Central Islip, and Huntington Station." Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) also attended.
"Whenever a high-profile incident occurs the department is shifting resources in a smoke and mirrors game, leaving other areas vulnerable," Browning said. "The numbers don't lie. Crime is up."
He rejected as "laughable" the lawmakers' claim that crime is generally on the rise, pointing to statistics showing that crime dropped overall by 8 percent in Suffolk last year. He also rejected claims by Browning and Romaine that fewer officers are on the street, and that violent crime is up by 40 percent in their area.
Levy suggested their charges were prompted by the county's police union. "We should not have the PBA running the police department," said Levy, who is touting his combative relationship with Suffolk's municipal unions as evidence that he's tough on spending.
But several high-profile cases in recent weeks - notably the murder of a 15-year-old in Brentwood and the arrest of eight suspected Latin Kings gang members in Huntington Station - have raised concerns by many county legislators that Levy is not doing enough. They say they are particularly annoyed he has hired only 70 new officers of the 200 positions the legislature authorized last year.Steve Levy's background and his animus toward police, it's difficult to believe" he'd pick up any endorsements from police unions in his bid for governor against rival GOP candidate Rick Lazio, who was once a Suffolk prosecutor, said Noel DiGerolamo, a Suffolk PBA vice president.
The legislators said Suffolk's police need to beef up foot patrols in downtown areas, increase anti-gang units, maintain more of a presence near schools and proceed with hiring all 200 new officers as the county legislature approved last year.
"If all budgeted positions were filled in January, officers would be training in the police academy now and would ready to hit the streets in a few months," said Romaine. "This would go a long way toward addressing, not only staffing issues in the 7th Precinct, but throughout the entire Suffolk County Police Department."