BY MIKE ADAMS AND MARCO SCHADEN
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran joined with law enforcement and politicians to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-renovated office of the Nassau County Police Department’s (NCPD) Sixth Precinct on Thursday, Oct. 31.
Curran commended the legislature for securing funding for the renovation, and the Department of Public Works for carrying it out, at the press conference before the ribbon cutting.
“Reopening this precinct sends a message to all the communities it protects that you are safe and that you matter,” Curran said. “It also sends a message to our sworn members and civilian members of our police department that they matter too.”
The Sixth Precinct was shuttered in 2012, along with the Eighth Precinct in Bethpage, in an attempt to save money and consolidate the NCPD under former County Executive Edward Mangano. Since then, residents in the Sixth Precinct’s jurisdiction, which includes Great Neck, Manhasset, Roslyn, parts of Port Washington and Glen Cove, have had to travel to the Third Precinct in Williston Park to speak with officers and detectives.
Curran filed a lawsuit against the county legislature in November 2018 over changes the group made to her proposed $3.075 billion budget. The legislature added $1.6 million to the budget, with money allocated to reopen the Sixth Precinct and Eighth Precinct. The county executive’s office argued that the county was not financially ready to reverse the consolidation of the two precincts, saying it was “irresponsible.”
Eventually, the back-and-forth chaos between Curran and the legislature came to an end, as they reached a deal to reopen the two precincts. The Sixth Precinct was officially reopened in April, but officers stationed there were working out of a trailer on the front lawn while the main offices were being renovated.
Department officials led a tour of the facilities, which include offices, lounge spaces, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a kitchen, a gym and a conference room. Several police officers and politicians commented on the dismal conditions of the building prior to renovation, and said the $1 million devoted to improving the precinct has left it vastly improved.
“It’s a wonderful day in this neighborhood,” District 10 Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, who made reopening the precinct a priority since she was first elected in 2015, said. “It’s a win for everybody. The police have a nice refurbished home and the community once again has an operational precinct.”
The precinct currently has a new commanding officer, deputy commanding officer and 143 fully-staffed police officers, but no detectives.
A whole wing of the precincts basement is dedicated office space for detectives although the precinct still has no detectives on site, a fact that was referenced throughout the ceremony.
“There’s more work to be done, we’re not done yet,” NCPD Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “We’re going to get our detectives back. The furniture has been delivered for the detective division and is being put downstairs, so our next goal is to correct that wrong.”
The NCPD currently has a little less than 300 detectives, down from 425 a decade prior. The current budget provides funding for 360 detectives in Nassau, but the positions remain unfilled, which both county politicians and representatives of the Nassau County Detectives’ Association (DAI) attribute to a lack of incentive to take on the extra work.
“We need detectives,” Curran said. “Detectives eat, sleep and breathe their cases. They are on it day-and-night. We need to make it so that patrol officers have the incentive, desire and motivation to step up and make detective.”
In response to fiscal stress the county accrued during the Mangano administration, the state-run Nassau Interim Financial Authority (NIFA) froze wages for around 7,000 unionized county employees in 2011, including members of the county’s PBA, DAI and Superior Officers Association (SOA). The affected unions sued, and were issued an arbitration award to help unfreeze wages. The particulars of the award affected the raises, or “steps,” a county detective can receive in a way that made remaining a patrol officer more financially appealing. Seven detectives have already asked to be demoted to police officers in the last year alone.
“You have to finish your police officer steps before you start your detective steps,” DAI President John Wighaus said in June. “At first, it was not an issue because we had a lot of senior guys. We still had the interest of police officers wanting to be detectives. Over the years, that has not been the case.”
The DAI and county are currently negotiating a new contract. The union has been out of contract for about two years, have not received a raise in that span and is currently operating under the previous agreement until a new one can be reached.
While senior officials from the PBA, SOA and Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, nobody from the DAI was present. Wighaus said representatives had been invited, but chose not to attend, and remarked that he felt the county and DAI were not close to settling contract negotiations.
“The Sixth Precinct is not and will not be a fully functioning precinct until it is staffed with detectives,” Wighaus said. “The county executive can blame this on past people in charge of the county, but this is on the county executive now. And if it continues to get worse, it’s only going to be at the expense of the safety of our residents.”
While the Sixth Precinct currently has no detectives, residents will have to go to the Third Precinct in order to get in touch with one. Wighaus also mentioned the issues caused by the detective shortage may be exacerbated once the county moves to a cashless bail system in January.
“I am very concerned about this,” Curran said. “We’re in collective bargaining right now with the detectives union because we want to rectify that. We want to make it so patrol officers are incentivized to become detectives and that is something we’re facing in bargaining and I’m very eager to get that done, that is a big priority for me.”