Before the Nassau County Legislature voted earlier this year to merge the county Police Department’s eight precincts into four, there was heavy opposition to the plan, particularly in communities served by the 5th Precinct.
Six of the eight precincts have already been consolidated, with the 1st and 7th precincts scheduled to be merged on Nov. 1. The opposition, however, has not gone away.
On Oct. 9, Save the 5th Precinct, a group started by North Valley Stream resident Milagros Vicente, hosted a community forum at American Legion Post 854 in Valley Stream, at which Nassau County Police Department officials answered residents’ questions.
First Deputy Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, 4th Precinct Commanding Officer Chris Cleary and Deputy Commanding Officer Robert Psionas, and Sgt. Ed Grimm, who oversees the special units for the 4th Precinct, comprised a panel that fielded a variety of questions about the merger plan.
On Sept. 14, the 5th Precinct, in Elmont, merged with the 4th, in Hewlett. The merger was initially scheduled for Sept. 1, but was delayed to allow for the installment of trailers to house additional staff and equipment at 4th Precinct headquarters in Hewlett. The trailers cost $150,000 each, according to Krumpter.
County Executive Ed Mangano has said that the precinct plan will save the county $20 million annually. Krumpter said that the savings would be a function of staff reductions rather than a change in the use of the precincts.
The 5th Precinct building, on Dutch Broadway in Elmont, was converted into what county officials are calling a “community policing center.” The precinct served Elmont, Franklin Square, Garden City South, Lakeview, Lynbrook, Malverne, South Floral Park, Valley Stream and West Hempstead.
The 4th Precinct, at 199 Broadway in Hewlett, serves the Five Towns, Atlantic Beach, East Rockaway, Bay Park, Island Park, Lido Beach, Long Beach, Oceanside and Point Lookout.
At the forum, Vicente read questions written by residents of Valley Stream and nearby communities to the police officials. Many of them dealt with how the communities formerly served by the 5th Precinct would be protected without a traditional police headquarters.
Krumpter explained that the NCPD had 177 sector cars prior to the precinct reduction, and that has remained unchanged. In fact, he said, “By consolidating the 4th and 5th precincts at this point, we’ve added 10 additional special units” — four Problem Oriented Policing officers, four members of the Arrest Response Team and two members of the Precinct Enforcement Patrol. Cleary decides where to dispatch the special units in the enlarged 4th Precinct.
Overall, the department will add approximately 45 special units through the precinct plan, Krumpter said, adding that they would mostly deal with quality-of-life issues, like stop signs and graffiti. “By putting these additional special units back in,” he said, “it allows us to deal with those issues a lot more easily than when we didn’t have them.”
Krumpter made it clear, however, that jobs had been cut at the administrative level. Instead of having separate commanding officers and deputy commanding officers, Cleary and Psionas now handle the workload for the combined precinct. Since September 2008, Krumpter said, the department has cut its administrative staff from 72 to 34.
“The risk here is not the public safety,” he said. “The risk has always been administrative risk — how we handle paperwork, how we deal with the time officers, how we deal with the summons activity. That’s where the risks are, and those are where we’re going to have to make our adjustments.”
Dean Losquadro, a trustee for the 5th Precinct who has served on the force for 25 years, said that the reduction in administrators slows down the policing process, including the writing of case reports and transporting prisoners. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Elmont who has spoken out against the precinct plan for months, said that in his recent dealings with police officers, he has noted that their morale is down due to the changes.
But Krumpter said that public safety has not changed for the worse since the 5th Precinct became a community policing center. A computer monitoring system that tracks police response times, he said, has shown no change in recent months.
Pat Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Association, said he has seen officers from different precincts in his area in recent weeks — in addition to more people knowingly violating the rules of the road. “People know that the police presence has diminished, and … so they’re doing 70 miles an hour on Franklin Avenue,” he said. “They’re blowing by these buses with the stop signs out.”
Vicente said she decided to host the forum because many residents had been expressing their concerns about the plan. After the meeting, she said, “Save the 5th Precinct is still going to keep track of what’s going on with the merger and continue to get feedback from residents as far as how they feel.”