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Nassau panel OKs rewards for drug tips that lead to convictions

A Nassau legislative committee on Monday approved legislation to authorize the use of asset forfeiture money to fund rewards of up to $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of people for criminal sale of prescriptions and controlled substances.

The measure would allow the county police commissioner to move funds from federal asset forfeiture funds to Nassau County Crime Stoppers, which would make the awards for tips. If federal authorities are involved in criminal probes, the federal government gets a share of seized assets before passing them along to local law enforcement.

The bill passed unanimously in the legislature’s Public Safety and Rules committees, and will go before the full legislature, which meets April 23.

However, legislators during a hearing said the bill needed several revisions. The current version calls for funding a standing reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction for the criminal sale of prescriptions or controlled substances.

Legis. Denise Ford (D-Long Beach), who sits with the GOP majority, said lawmakers would consult with lawyers and clarify the language so “it’s quite clear in this legislation that the funding will be there, regardless of how many notices we get from different people.”

For instance, officials might hear from “20 people calling in on drug dealers and all 20 of them lead to the arrest and conviction, so we’re talking about a large amount of money,” Ford said. “So we need to make sure that if we are going to offer this reward that we have the funds to stand behind it, so that the people do get paid.”

Suffolk County has a similar program.

In 2016, the office of then-county police Commissioner Timothy Sini, now the Suffolk district attorney, created a 24-hour narcotics tip line. The program uses funds raised privately to offer rewards of up to $5,000 to tipsters whose information leads to arrests of drug dealers, a county spokesman said. The hotline so far has received 3,281 tips and does not use asset forfeiture funds, the spokesman said.

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the Nassau bill is “targeted toward getting dealers off the street.”

In other matters, the Rules Committee also unanimously approved a bill to require American Sign Language interpreters at Nassau County government conferences held during emergencies. The bill was sponsored by Legis. Joshua Lafazan, of Woodbury, who caucuses with Democrats but has no party affiliation.

A number of deaf residents, speaking through an interpreter, argued for the bill, citing confusion about public services during emergencies.

Diana Pelchuck, 35 of Hicksville, said that when she watches those news conferences, closed-captioning is often difficult to follow or an inaccurate alternative. “Having a live interpreter on the screen communicating with the community would be great,” she said.

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