Suffolk police may beef up patrols at polling places in April
Suffolk police are assessing a request to beef up patrols at polling places in schools during a special state Assembly election next month in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron said Tuesday that police are considering plans for an “enhanced police presence” at about 21 schools hosting polling places during the April 24 vote in the 5th Assembly District. Democrat Deborah Slinkosky is facing Republican Douglas Smith to succeed Republican Al Graf, who vacated the seat to become a District Court judge.
The Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School highlighted the potential vulnerability of schools, especially when hundreds of visitors are on campus, Cameron said in an interview.
“I’m pretty confident that when people go to vote . . . they’ll see an enhanced police presence,” Cameron said. “It will look somewhat different than it has in the past.”
He declined to discuss specific plans under review. Schools hosting polling places next month will be contacted as “part of the assessment,” he said.
Cameron said the police department typically assigns officers to assist the board of elections when elections are being held.
Cameron’s comments came after Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine asked Suffolk County officials to consider assigning police to each of the schools where voting will take place next month.
“My request comes out of an abundance of caution in light of recent school shootings,” Romaine, a Republican, wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to County Executive Steve Bellone and Acting Police Commissioner John Barry. “A police presence would likely discourage tendencies toward violent action at any and all of our polling places.”
A Bellone spokesman referred questions to Cameron.
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer supported Romaine’s request. “I think anytime we can make sure our children are protected is a good thing,” Schaffer said. “It probably would be better to err on the side of caution.”
Lars Clemensen, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said adding police would be an “appropriate measure” to protect students.
“On polling days, you have hundreds or potentially thousands of people who are not necessarily known face-to-face in a school building,” said Clemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays school system. “I don’t see how this can hurt.”
He said many school officials have been concerned for years that placing election polls at schools may jeopardize students and staff.
“We’re very protective of our campuses, in terms of who has access and who’s there,” Clemensen said. “This has been something that has been on our minds for a long time.”