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Low crime and high police costs on Long Island

Nassau Executive Edward Mangano said the county had

Nassau Executive Edward Mangano said the county had the lowest crime rate since 1966, the year crime stats were first recorded. Credit: News 12

One of the most extraordinary things about both Suffolk and Nassau counties reporting sharp reductions in overall crime in 2016 is that the rates were already so low you would think significant improvement would be hard to come by. Long Island has long had the lowest crime rate of any large metropolitan area in the country.

In Suffolk, the homicide rate spiked from 25 in 2015 to 34 last year, but overall crimes reported were down 5.7 percent and violent crimes reported were down almost 11 percent. In Nassau, major crimes were down 9 percent and overall crime was down just under 2 percent, with homicides dipping from 24 to 22.

Both the consistently low crime and the improvement are a testament both to good policing and to a largely law-abiding suburban populace, but how much can be attributed to either is hard to distill from the data. In general, large metropolitan areas with low crime also have high property values. Experts say burglars and thieves in particular can’t afford to live in such places and generally work close to home.

Long Islanders pay a lot of money for policing, and both counties have large forces. In each county, per police officer, there’s about one crime reported every five weeks in the area they cover. Suffolk spends $730 million a year on policing, and Nassau spends about $860 million. And in each county, the annual compensation package for an officer, including benefits, averages more than $230,000.

Long Islanders demand and pay for safety. But much of the expense is driven by costly union work rules that don’t reflect crimefighting needs. Much of the willingness to pay may stem from unjustified fears of crime. Elected officials need to question costs and study ways to reduce them, because much of each county’s tax revenue goes to an expense that could reasonably be quite a bit lower. — The editorial board