More than 20 years ago, some Nassau and Suffolk county legislators had an idea that was worth supporting. Both counties were struggling to come up with money to build their own permanent police academies. Shouldn’t they at least study the idea of building one great police academy to share?
But that never happened. Neither police department liked the idea of sharing. The stated objections included scheduling and staffing conflicts, travel time, liability for negligent training and the need to preserve the distinct culture of each department. But the complications, while legitimate, were far from unsolvable.
In the end, Suffolk spent $54 million to build an academy at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood; it opened in 2000. Nassau’s police academy, then inappropriately housed trailers at the county jail, is now inappropriately housed in a former school in Massapequa.
The quest to build a Nassau police academy has been depressing as the vision gets consistently smaller and costlier for taxpayers. Ten years ago, the Nassau County Police Foundation was founded to raise $24 million in private money to build a 150,000-square-foot facility. In 2015, then-County Executive Edward Mangano announced construction would soon begin on a $40 million, 120,000-square-foot academy with just $5 million from the foundation, $25 million from the police department’s asset forfeiture fund and $10 million from the county’s capital budget. Now, Nassau’s newest plan to build its own academy has a serendipitously familiar $54 million set aside for it, all from county coffers, even though Nassau’s books are bleeding $100 million a year in deficit spending, and this version is slated to be just 90,000 square feet.
And still, no one has even studied the idea of sharing.
Could Nassau cops be trained at the Brentwood facility? Some current and former police officials say it could be done, but resources and scheduling might be tight. Both Nassau and Suffolk departments also train officers for village and other local forces, and both have had large classes in recent years.
The idea of sharing is still worthy of study, and might be well served by a dose of creativity. Suffolk’s academy is 18 years old. It has elements that are still in great shape and others that could be more modern.
So what if a study determined what should be upgraded or modernized in the Suffolk facility, whether it be shooting ranges or computer labs or physical training facilities, and Nassau built just those elements at its site, or paid to add them in Suffolk? Perhaps that would cost only half as much and give both counties access to a top-notch facility.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran were together Tuesday at the Suffolk Share: Inter-Municipal Procurement Conference on Tuesday, along with other public officials, to talk about saving money via cooperation and shared services. Getting together to provide both counties with the best police training facilities at the best price would be a great place to start.
The concern is that the police forces won’t like it — but taxpayers probably would.