Officers line up to attend the wake for NYPD Officer...

Officers line up to attend the wake for NYPD Officer Jonathan Diller on Thursday, in Massapequa Park. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The positively evil slaying of NYPD officer Jonathan Diller, evidently by a career criminal in Queens, brought a somber show of uniformed law enforcement support and solidarity to his home community in Massapequa Park. One take-away from that “sea of blue” is a reassurance that the region, especially Long Island, has many highly trained professionals in many police agencies, on the job, protecting us.

Unfortunately, that appreciation makes an initiative that surfaced this month from Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s office seem especially peculiar.

Without hearings, or even news releases from the not-camera-shy county executive, the administration is spreading word it seeks local residents licensed to carry firearms to become “provisional” deputy sheriffs. They’d be activated only during a declared emergency, per recruitment notices. The deputies would be citizens 21 to 72 years old, who are local property or business owners, and are willing to undergo background checks and drug testing and obtain fit-for-duty letters from doctors.

The administration has yet to make a public case for this idea. By all accounts, it even took the GOP-run county legislature by surprise.

Does Blakeman simply want a special militia at his disposal? The presumed legal basis for this reflects the old-time principle of a posse comitatus, a group mobilized by a county sheriff to suppress lawlessness, which is still reflected in state law. But Blakeman and Sheriff Anthony LaRocco haven’t explained who needs this special initiative, who asked for it, or why.

Nassau already has a fully equipped and staffed county police department and a sheriff’s office with dozens of paid deputies. There are also state troopers. There are village and town public-safety agencies. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its own police. The county police have volunteer auxiliaries under their direction, as well as a professional emergency management office. For dire emergencies, the New York Guard is a state defense force with citizen volunteers supplementing the National Guard.

There is more downside here than upside.

During chaotic and violent incidents, when presumably more resources would be needed, the chain of command at the scene becomes crucial. Sometimes, official confusion and lack of the coordination even among seasoned officers who often work with other agencies can spark tragic “friendly fire.” In 2011, an MTA officer shot and killed a plainclothes Nassau County officer in a heartbreaking example at a crime scene in Massapequa Park — an honest but awful mistake in a dangerous situation. It should weigh against having well-meaning volunteers, hired only for emergencies, drawing guns on behalf of the county.

Blakeman’s deputizing approach is no way for an elected leader to address public safety, or manage emergencies, or run county operations. There is no public rationale to move this forward. County lawmakers need to demand an explanation, if only to help protect our police professionals.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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