The math of consolidating Nassau County's police precincts isn't confusing. Reducing the number of precincts made financial sense and has not hurt crime fighting. But let politics, the fears of residents and the desires of the police unions creep in, and what should be clear becomes very cloudy.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter announced his plan to consolidate the county's eight precincts into four in 2012. The former precincts would become community centers with fewer employees. He said the move would save $20 million annually because cutting staffing in four precinct houses would get cops back on the street, reducing out-of-control overtime costs. Police Benevolent Association President James Carver claimed crime would skyrocket and there would be slower response times and more police overtime. Many residents of the neighborhoods that would lose full-fledged precinct houses took up the cry at public meetings.
But it's now clear that Carver and the concerned residents were wrong. Precincts were reduced from eight to five, and major crime countywide and in areas that lost precinct houses went down, not up.
Did the closures save money? Yes. Unfortunately, the closures also happened as the department head count in the last several years has plunged from 2,750 to 2,200. Part of that reduction was desired, but Krumpter ideally wanted 2,400 cops to control costs, and couldn't hire 200 more until the county ended a wage freeze for Nassau workers this past May.
Now, it's been announced that the First Precinct in Baldwin and the Seventh Precinct in Seaford will not merge after all. In addition, the merger of the Fifth Precinct in Elmont into the Fourth Precinct in Hewlett will be undone.
The reason is mostly politics, with legislators from the affected areas pressuring county officials to forgo those two mergers. County Executive Edward Mangano needs the support of most legislators to borrow money to keep the county running. With elections a year away, county legislators need his help to stay relevant.
The absorptions of the Sixth Precinct in Manhasset by the Third Precinct in Williston Park, and the Eighth Precinct in Levittown by the Second Precinct in Woodbury, haven't caused as much uproar and will stand. But the reversal puts Krumpter in the position of having to claim both that combining precincts saved a lot of money and that not combining them won't cost any.
He can't have it both ways.
Krumpter says combining precincts did save money without hurting law enforcement. Consolidating to as few as four precincts would have saved even more. Backing off will cost money.
Worse though, the hedging surrounding it all has cost county officials credibility. If they'll say whatever supports their political moves, how can we trust them about which ones make financial sense?