When it comes to public safety, the people and police officers of Nassau County have a lot to feel good about. Reported crimes hit historic lows in 2018, and major crime — which includes homicide, rape, burglary and robbery — were down 4 percent in 2018 to 5,551, and by 28 percent over five years.
But the politics of policing in Nassau are practically criminal. The unions that have worked without contracts for 17 months and the Republican-led county legislature are coming together to put Democratic County Executive Laura Curran in a vise.
The Police Benevolent Association has led these unions in hammering Curran from every angle. The PBA gave over-the-top backing to her Republican opponent, Jack Martins, during the 2017 campaign. And once the Curran administration began trying to fix the county’s busted assessment system, the PBA rented billboard trucks to display the false message that she was raising taxes and blare the song “Rich Girl.”
Now the union has added a target, Curran’s police commissioner, Patrick Ryder.
The unions complain that Nassau has only 309 detectives, significantly fewer than the 360 budgeted. Their other beef is that patrol officers are often pressed into service as school crossing guards. Both issues should be addressed, but neither is a safety emergency in a county with record-low crime.
The detective shortage was created by contracts the PBA negotiated that made the job of patrol officer more attractive, with fewer work days and higher earnings than detectives. That needs to be fixed in the next contract by giving detectives raises. In return, the county needs the freedom to assign detectives to work when and where they are needed rather than just filling predetermined slots in eight precincts.
As for sometimes using police as crossing guards, a practice the county has employed for decades, it’s often a good way to get police out into the community. If too many police are being diverted, though, the first solution must be a study to see how many of the county’s more than 400 patrolled crossings serve a significant number of children. End patrols where crossing guards are unneeded.
Meanwhile, the legislature’s GOP majority gets cozier with the PBA as Election Day gets closer. The legislature held a hearing on Tuesday to excoriate Curran and Ryder over the detective shortage, and another on Wednesday to hammer the pair over using officers as crossing guards. A little too obvious.
Supporting police unions at all costs has typically been a calculated political strategy in Nassau County, and Republicans have relied on it for decades. But now the county is very safe — and very broke. Taxes are sky high, and police officers enjoy a far better paycheck, schedule, benefits and retirement than most of the taxpayers for whom they work.
In these union negotiations, Curran is charged with looking out for the taxpayers. Labor leaders must look out for their members. The legislators should fight to help allay the real monetary concerns of their voters. Instead, they are selling their services to the police unions to stoke fake fears for political gain.
— The editorial board