Four years ago, as the race for Nassau County executive between then Legislator Laura Curran, a Democrat, and then State Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican, was heating up, the state Republican Party attempted an all-too-common GOP political tactic: It tried to paint Democrats as weak on crime, saying Curran would allow the notorious El Salvadoran gang MS-13 to run wild across the county.
The GOP did so in a last-minute mailer that showed three shirtless, tattooed Hispanic men grimacing angrily. The flier, mailed to homes across Nassau, read, “Meet your new neighbors. Laura Curran will roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13.”
The flier, which was inherently racist, came at a time when fears of MS-13 were running high after young Hispanic men, hacked to death with machetes by the gang, were found buried in the woods in Baldwin, Freeport, Merrick and Massapequa.
It was a low blow that played to voters’ basest fears. And it was wrong. Voters saw past the Republicans’ attempt to win by any means possible, electing Curran, and MS-13 never overran Nassau, as predicted. In fact, we’ve heard little of the gang since a series of high-profile arrests of numerous gang leaders.
Thankfully, we had had, as of press time Monday, relatively little of such political chicanery. Curran’s opponent this time around, Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, was laser-focused on lambasting Curran over the county’s property-tax reassessment, and said relatively little about crime.
During an endorsement interview with the Herald editorial board leading up to the election, however, Blakeman tried to make it sound as though Nassau was not, in fact, the “safest county in America” two years in a row, as judged by U.S. News & World Report. There had been an explosion of crime during the coronavirus pandemic, he said, that was not factored into the magazine’s rankings. He ticked off a list of recent violent crimes, wondering why they had not garnered greater media attention.
That got us thinking: Is Nassau really as safe as the magazine says it is? Curran made public safety a cornerstone of her campaign, and regularly touted the U.S. News assessment.
Nassau, we found, is indeed a very safe place to live. We could not undertake the county-by-county assessment that the magazine did. We did, however, look into the crime statistics for 2020 and 2021, Nassau County Police Department precinct by precinct. And, we are pleased to report, crime — particularly violent crime — has been astonishingly low here the past two years.
Nassau’s murder rate on any given year is 2 per 100,000 people. The nationwide average was, by comparison, 7.8 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That is not to say there is no violent crime here. This is not the Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show.” This is one of the country’s most densely populated counties — with nearly 1.35 million people — outside the largest city in the nation, so we expect to see crime. We cannot dispute the claim, though, that Nassau is either the safest or one of the safest large counties in the country.
At the time of this writing, we had no idea who would win the county executive’s seat. The Herald endorsed Curran this year, as we did four years ago. Unlike 2017, she had a record to run on this time, and when it came to policing, she made the grade. So, win or lose, we should thank her for her continual support for the men and women in blue who patrol our streets and keep us safe.
Blakeman attempted to link Curran to the movement to defund police. In no way, however, did she ever promote a plan that would reduce funding for our police force. Quite the opposite. Throughout her first four years in office, she touted a singular message: She unequivocally supported the NCPD.
At the same time, she was able to win a concession from police, who agreed, finally, to wear body cameras in exchange for an annual stipend. It was an important win for police accountability.
We now encourage whoever wins the county executive’s seat to seek greater diversity in the police ranks. The latest class of police cadets to go through the academy this year, while more diverse than past classes, was still largely white. That must change as Nassau’s demographics change. We hope and trust that it will. If it does not, residents must demand reform.