Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said Thursday he intends to replace 56 police officers with civilians.
Speaking to the legislature's Public Safety Committee, Dormer said the changes would move 37 officers, 11 sergeants and eight detectives into the patrol unit. Their positions would be replaced by civilians, he said.
"Some departments are laying off cops, we're not doing that, we're not considering that," Dormer said. "In these tough fiscal times . . . if it doesn't require the expertise of a sworn officer, we have to look at it for civilianization and put that officer back on the street."
Some legislators have been upset that County Executive Steve Levy has committed to hire only 70 of the 200 budgeted new police officers this year.
Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) worried that having civilians performing police duties like helicopter co-pilots could be "dangerous" to the public.
Levy spokesman Dan Aug said the department is unable to quantify what the potential cost savings will be.
Noel DiGerolamo, the vice president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said he believes legislators will block the civilianization plans.
"They're prepared at this point to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the residents of Suffolk County start receiving all the services that they're paying for," he said.
The committee voted unanimously for a proposal that would require Dormer to get legislative approval before eliminating departmental units or moving a significant number of personnel.
Legislators who supported the measure said they felt obligated to do so because of a lack of communication from Dormer and Levy.
"Unless we take this action it appears this administration will not engage us in any discussion," said Legis. John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset).
Dormer and Levy aide Ben Zwirn protested the move, arguing it would hinder future police commissioners from shifting resources to fight crime.
"You are reducing every decision a commissioner makes to a committee resolution," Zwirn said.