While Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Dale held a Jan. 30 press conference announcing their plan to close half of the county’s police precincts, a call was going out to officers that shots were fired in Elmont.
Earlier that morning in Cedarhurst, a Right Time Grocery was robbed by a man displaying a silver handgun. At 2:40 p.m., another robbery occurred in East Garden City, where a victim was slashed in the face. Two hours later, an argument in Hempstead ended with a victim being stabbed in the face, arms and body. At 7:55 a.m. the next day, an Elmont woman was forced back into her home by a man armed with a handgun demanding money. Later that afternoon a teenager was attacked by two men, who stole his cellphone and headphones. At approximately 8:20 p.m., three men all armed with guns forced a man back inside his friend’s house in Hempstead. They knocked him to the ground and ransacked the home.
Events unfolded quickly after the announcement.
On the night of Friday, Feb. 3, the project was put on the public safety committee agenda of the GOP-led Nassau Legislature for a vote the following Monday. Acting Commissioner Dale, appointed two months earlier, presented the plan to the committee as planned, insisting time after time and correcting legislators over and over that this was not to be called a “closing of precincts, but realignment.” The meeting became loud as opponents to the plan crowded the legislative chamber and cheered lawmakers asking questions Dale couldn’t answer.
In a surprise move, after a short recess, committee chairman Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown), who had fought to move the plan out of committee, announced the meeting would be adjourned until the following week without the vote. During the debate, prerecorded calls from Mangano, a Republican, were being sent out to the citizens of Nassau County endorsing the plan. Those messages were reiterated on the county executive’s Facebook page.
The residents who spoke at a public hearing on the issue weren’t sold.
Jon Johnson, president of the Elmont Cardinal’s Sports Club—one of several dozen residents, community leaders and police union officials protesting the plan—gave an impassioned and impromptu speech stressing the need to keep the precincts open and emphasizing its importance to the community as a safe haven. He testified that his daughter’s school is only 50 yards away from the Fifth Precinct and he feels safe when she walks by it every day, because, in terms of public safety, “The precinct is what they look for.”
Johnson’s was one of numerous concerns regarding the proposal, which, among other drastic changes to the police department, would cut the number of police precincts serving the county from eight to four.
Earlier this week, when the public safety committee hearing resumed, Mangano’s original plan had been modified, but the passionate outcry remained. Hundreds packed Nassau’s Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola to voice their concerns to lawmakers. Despite requests from Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) to allow the audience to ask questions first, the meeting went on for hours before residents had a chance to comment. By then, many who had arrived early for an opposition rally in front of the building had left. Committee members passed Mangano’s plan 4-3 along party lines.
The drama was the latest surrounding Mangano’s proposal, which, if approved by county legislators at a meeting before the full legislature on Feb. 27, would be the largest structural and financial shakeup in the Nassau County Police Department’s 87-year existence. By halving the number of traditional police precincts, the plan would consequently spread the work of the eight among four. Police ranks will be thinned by at least 100. The main objective: It will purportedly save Nassau taxpayers $20 million.
Mangano has been trying to bridge a $310-million budget gap and satisfy the state financial watchdog Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which declared a fiscal emergency within the county last year. The money has to come from somewhere. His precinct plan follows hundreds of county layoffs and an ongoing proposal to privatize its sewage system for up to $1.3 billion.
Yet however fiscally responsible Mangano’s intentions may be—another major point of debate among naysayers—on paper, it has ignited nothing short of a firestorm.