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Playing it safe

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Daily Point

Community safety ratings practically criminal

With the release of U.S. News & World Report’s "Healthiest Communities" rankings this week, Nassau County has found some statistics to crow about … and Suffolk County has a bone to pick.

The publication has ranked Nassau the top county in the nation when it comes to public safety, with a perfect 100 score. The ranking reflects the county’s per capita spending of $1,148 annually on public safety, compared to a national average of $358; the fact that 1.26% of its population works in public safety, compared to a national average of .70%; and, most important, its 133.8 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, compared to a national average of 231 per 100,000 residents.

They are heady numbers, and it’s not surprising Nassau earned them. Long Island has consistently been rated the safest metropolitan statistical area in the nation, and the top list is full of similar counties: Rockland is second-safest in the nation, while Westchester is fifth; Bergen County, New Jersey, is sixth; Richmond County (Staten Island) is ninth; Putnam is 17th; and Hudson is 18th.

So what about Suffolk?

It got an overall score of 41 (compared to Nassau’s 100) and it’s hard to make sense of it at first. It lists annual per capita spending on public safety at $822, more than double the national average, and the percentage of residents working in public safety, 1.26%, is also exemplary.

But the website lists Suffolk's violent crime rate as 2035.5 per 100,000 residents, a number that, were it correct (it isn’t), would make it the nation’s most crime-ridden community.

By comparison, Illinois’ Cook County, which includes Chicago, has a rate of 627.5 per 100,000, while Bronx County is listed at 567.1 per 100,000, and New Orleans (Orleans Parish) is 1050.3 per 100,000.

The Suffolk violent crime number almost certainly derived from a keystroke error that added a digit and multiplied the crimes by a factor of 10. A rate of 203.5 would be right in line with past statistics, while 2035.5 would dwarf them.

Informed of the good news Friday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told The Point, "Our community policing program in Nassau County really does pay off, and this great news makes that clear. It’s the folks who are out on the street doing the work every day, the cops on the street, who deserve so much credit, as does the leadership of the department."

Curran also stressed the responsible nature of her residents, pointing out "People in Nassau want to live safely, get to work and get the kids to school and follow the law, and I’m very proud of that, too."

For his part, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the report was definitely inaccurate, pointing out that he just did a news conference to announce Suffolk’s crime rate continues to be at a historic low and has dropped even further during the pandemic.

U.S. News & World Report did not respond by the time The Point was published Friday.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Fining the rulebreakers

Since Sept. 14, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority instituted a $50 fine for those who refuse to wear a mask while in the station or on the trains and buses, only five summonses have been issued.

Four of the five were for Long Island Rail Road customers.

All four received the summonses while in Penn Station, and none had yet to board a train.

MTA officials said there’ve been nearly 2,000 conversations with customers, asking them to wear or adjust a mask, in the 11 days since the mask rule went into effect. The MTA also has handed out nearly 2,200 masks in the same period.

Besides the four LIRR summonses, one additional summons was issued on a Metro-North Railroad train.

LIRR President Phillip Eng told The Point Friday that he rides the train daily, and sees nearly every fellow rider wearing a mask, but will often hand out extra masks to customers who may have left theirs at home.

Most, he said, welcome the effort.

"We do know there are still some riders that either don’t believe in it or want to flout the system but we are seeing much stronger compliance," Eng said.

A summons, Eng said, is a "last resort" only given when a customer refuses to comply. The "vast majority" of Long Islanders are complying, or are at least putting a mask on once asked, he added.

"I think sometimes folks don’t take all of the rules seriously," Eng said. "That’s been one of the challenges. People push the envelope… and it forces us to consider additional action if necessary."

All four LIRR customers who received summonses had been drinking, Eng said, and pushed back against attempts to get them to either wear a mask, or leave the station.

"All we’re asking is for them to show courtesy when they’re in public with other people," Eng said. "That’s just, I think, the right thing to do."

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Looking for a vaccine

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Final Point

Cuomo and the anti-vax movement

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement that New York will conduct its own review of any coronavirus vaccine approved by the federal government took at least some people by surprise, as at least some anti-vax advocates suddenly wondered whether they had found common ground with the governor.

"Cuomo has Gone Anti-Vax," advocate John Gilmore, with the New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights, wrote on Facebook.

As evidence, Gilmore quoted Cuomo’s own comments from Thursday: "Is the vaccine safe? Frankly, I am not going to trust the federal government’s opinion. And I wouldn’t recommend it to New Yorkers based on the federal government’s opinion."

Cuomo’s remarks stirred a lot of interest on social media, as those who oppose vaccination, or refuse to give vaccines to their children, gathered virtually to parse the governor’s comments, and wonder about what will come next.

Some wondered about who would make up the task force that would make the decisions on the safety of a vaccine.

"So is he going to appoint the same people who evaluated the repeal of the religious exemption?" wrote activist Rita Palma, a Blue Point resident, who had fought against last year’s decision to ban religious exemptions for vaccines children must take before entering school.

Palma added in a separate comment: "This will shine the light. It already is. COVID was God’s gift to vaccine choice. More than 50% of the country do not want to take the vaccine. We are expanding. Right now. Every day. Have hope, there’s damn good reason for it."

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, however, took a different tact..

"The anti-science crowd should knock it off and stop twisting our words," Azzopardi said in a statement to The Point. "What we don’t trust is a federal government that has been caught red handed multiple times circumventing the health experts and making political decisions seemingly to boost the president’s re-election chances, which is why the Governor is assembling a panel of professionals to scientifically assess the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine."

Then there were those anti-vax commenters who interpreted Cuomo’s remarks very differently, saying the governor is as paving the way for a vaccine mandate.

"We all know he wants to be the big savior who mandates the vaccine for the whole state," said one commenter. "We will be forced to get it if we want to buy groceries, much like wearing a mask. Then he will write another book about how great he is for saving the state. My body, the governors (sic) choice."

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

The Point will return on Tuesday, Sept. 29.