A divided Amityville Village Board has broken with tradition and approved a non-village resident for the police department.
In hiring David Fuertes, a four-year veteran of the NYPD who lives in College Point, Queens, village officials brought the police department its only Spanish speaker.
No village residents who were candidates for the job spoke Spanish, Chief Don Dobby said at Friday's vote during a special board meeting.
Trustees in favor of the hire argued that it made sense as the village attracts more Spanish-speaking residents and business owners. About 12 percent of Amityville residents age 5 and older speak Spanish in their homes, according to U.S. Census figures.
"Using Spanish for law enforcement promotes trust with Hispanic residents and store operators," trustee Nick LaLota said in an email last week, adding that Fuertes' Spanish use will save the village thousands of dollars in fees for interpretation services.
Amityville code requires most village employees to be residents, but the board of trustees can waive the requirement in some cases.
Most of the 25 village police officers are residents, but under a collective bargaining agreement they are not required to be, LaLota said.
Trustee Dennis Siry was the sole dissenter in the 4-1 vote.
"We have a lot of good young kids who want to be Amityville cops," he said in an interview.
"These kids thought they were going to be hired, and then all of a sudden they say they're going to hire a Spanish-speaking guy," Siry said. "Changing rules in midstream is not a good thing to do."
Residents have knowledge of the village and "take more pride" in the job than nonresidents, Siry said, adding that he thought Fuertes' hiring was unfair to other candidates.
At least eight village residents were on the department's list of candidates and should have been given an opportunity to learn Spanish before the department sought outsiders, Siry said.
Fuertes, 27, will be paid $65,000 before overtime and, like other officers hired after 2013, will pay 15 percent of his health benefits. Officers hired before 2013 do not make any health insurance payments.
Fuertes could not be reached for comment.
A Marine Corps reservist who served as an infantryman in Iraq, Fuertes scored 97.5 out of 100 points on the Suffolk County police civil service test, according to LaLota.
"His personal character is impeccable," LaLota said. "He had 75 arrests in the NYPD. This guy is aces."
The Amityville Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing village police officers, released a statement this week that took no position on the residency issue but said, "We are encouraged with the hiring of an additional officer to bring the department closer to full staffing."
Village trustees on Friday also swore in police Officer Jeffrey Sears as sergeant. Sears, an 18-year veteran of the force and a village resident, will be paid about $188,000 before overtime.