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Lawmakers table plan for Suffolk police layoffs

The Suffolk Legislature Tuesday nightput off a resolution authorizing police layoffs as a way to force $6.7 million in union concessions over worries the department cannot afford any more staff cuts.

But County Executive Steve Levy criticized county lawmakers, claiming their inaction is "just setting the scene for a major property tax increase to clobber the public with."

Heightening tensions, the Legislature late last night approved, 14-2-2, a resolution giving the public safety committee the power to subpoena witnesses and records dealing with policy changes that could affect public safety. The resolution - approved in part out of concern for a recent Brentwood stabbing - was passed over the objections of Levy, who, according to aides "took umbrage."

The tabling of the layoff bill, the second in a month, came as Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Jeff Frayler and Levy deputy Ben Zwirn took questions from lawmakers for nearly 45 minutes, updating lawmakers on the status of settlement talks since the last meeting at the end of June.

"I know this is painful," said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) to the audience waiting to speak, "But I'm hoping the pain will bring gain and get a settlement eventually."

The bill authorizes seven layoffs and the axing of 280 vacant positions, if the union does not agree to concessions.

Several lawmakers said they are reluctant to authorize layoffs because of recent events such as the stabbing death in which the victim's body lay on a Brentwood street for several hours while a homicide detective was located, and increased gang activity. Both, they said, indicates there are not enough officers to combat crime.

"Some of the policy changes have jeopardized public safety," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville). "It's certainly important in my community where crime has increased. . . . I've seen it every day."

But Zwirn attacked the PBA for being the only county union that has failed to agree to concessions even though 500 of the department's officers make $150,000 or more.

Frayler countered, saying his members have no trust in the Levy administration, claiming sworn testimony in state hearings has shown the sheriff takeover of the highway patrol was in the works for a year.

He added the motorcycle unit was disbanded in retribution for two motorcycle officers testifying at those hearings. He also charged the department is playing "political games" with recent reassignments in a bid to drive a wedge between officers and the union, charges Levy denied.

The union leader also reiterated the union is willing to accept a lag payroll, but because of the mistrust, "We need language that no more of our jobs will be given away," he said.

During the debate, a letter from Levy's labor relations director Jeff Tempera surfaced that indicated they would protect the union jobs in 22 of 30 police commands, but left out areas including warrants, aviation, marine, firearms, Crime Stoppers, motorcycle court liaison and the police academy. Levy later said he "would not make an agreement that abdicates our ability to make further reform" if needed.

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