A Nassau officer on the scene of a burglary at...

A Nassau officer on the scene of a burglary at a Franklin Square restaurant in April. Credit: Lou Minutoli

Newsday's extensive data-based reporting this week revealed that Long Island police officers bank extraordinary paychecks, augmented at the end of their careers with massive one-time payouts and ultragenerous pensions

That's maddening, or should be maddening, to the average taxpayer, but you can't blame the cops alone.

They make as much as they can get for doing what they do, just like almost everybody else in the world.

But this can change. Cops could settle for fair compensation, unions could negotiate with an eye to accommodating the tax base and politicians could put right action above re-election. Voters would be well served if they elevated the best officials, and not just the ones with the best-funded campaigns. But the likeliest bet for improvement comes from smarter rules on arbitration and retirement payouts.

Police retirees on Long Island collect as much as $800,000 in their final year, thanks to accrued sick and vacation pay; officers can pick up $250,000 annually between salary and overtime, and both counties are facing massive budget deficits.

But you can't blame the cops for depositing the checks or bash the law-enforcement unions. They exist to get great deals for members and they have had great success.

You can chide politicians whose election wins are bought with police union campaign donations. They shouldn't be buckling in to compensation demands that hurt the taxpayer no matter who supplies their campaign contributions. But they also know that local elected officials who go against the police unions generally stop being elected officials.

You can also feel frustration that voters are not involved enough in the process to elect officials who will serve their needs, rather than the special interests.

But the real problem is a system in which arbitrators give better and better deals to each union on the theory that they deserve at least as much as the last police force got, and probably more. Worse, vacation and sick time, meant to provide workers with days to rest and recover, grant retirees ways to cash out fortunes.

Nassau and Suffolk are projecting huge deficits for next year. We can no longer afford a system that makes common sense and affordable compensation impossible to achieve. hN