Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has ordered his department take initial steps toward hiring 200 recruits.
His boss, County Executive Steve Levy, has not decided whether to veto $12 million for the new officers.
Dormer, testifying at the legislature's public safety committee, said he issued the order last week with Levy's knowledge, but declined to comment on the county executive's stand on hiring.
Later, Dormer said his order means letters will go out to 800 top civil service test scorers. Candidates will then undergo medical, fitness, psychological, and lie detector tests as well as background checks, a process requiring at least three months lead time.
An overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted to amend Levy's $2.64 billion 2010 budget to hire two classes of 100 officers - a first group in March and the second in September. The hiring will be funded by a 3 percent property tax increase, about $30 for the average home, in the police district made up of Suffolk's five western towns.
Levy has until Monday to veto the move, but Dan Aug, his spokesman, said, "Deliberations continue as to how many, if any officers, would be hired or civilianized." It's unlikely Levy would support any tax increase, Aug added. Applicant tests will not occur until the budget is decided. A legislative override vote could come Tuesday.
Until now, Levy, a Democrat, has maintained redeployments - such as transferring highway patrol to deputy sheriffs and turning office jobs held by police into civilian jobs - have offset the lower staffing numbers.
But backers maintain the new hiring - the first in three years - is needed to replace officers who've retired and prevent staffing levels from becoming dangerously low. "I believe we are seriously undermanned," said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook).
Dormer and lawmakers also clashed on crime statistics at the hearing, with the commissioner saying crime is on the decline by using teams to swarm areas to make gang and gun arrests. Lawmakers said those efforts don't replace specialized units in each precinct. "All you're doing is squeezing the balloon," said Legis. Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham). "Crime is shrinking in some places, but it's increasing someplace else."