The merging of Nassau County's eight police precincts and its effect on community safety was a major focus of the West Hempstead Community Support Association's March 21 meeting, where the guest speakers included County Executive Ed Mangano and Police Chief Steven Skrynecki.
Mangano prefaced his discussion of the changes coming to Nassau's police precincts by addressing the "structural problems" that led to the need to reduce the department's headcount.
"We've been working on the largest deficit in Nassau's history," he said, adding that the county's property taxes have gone up 40 percent in the last decade and are among the highest in the nation.
One of the ways, he said, they have been working to lower the county's expenditures is by reducing duplicate administrative services, eliminating 1,776 government jobs since he took office in 2010. He asked Chief Skrynecki to speak about the realignment of the police precincts, a plan the earlier this month to convert the existing eighth precincts into four community policing centers.
"We are reducing county staff in every department, and the police is no exception," Skrynecki said, adding that the goal is to cut about 100 staff jobs to save $20 million. "If you need to reduce police force the inside people - [those working inside the precinct] - are the best way to go."
Skrynecki said that the need for officers to actually go inside their assigned precinct has been greatly reduced since he started as an officer more than 30 years ago. Today, he explained, the officers are equipped with technology inside their patrol cars that allow them to perform most of their duties remotely. He also addressed a common misconception that it's the individual precincts that dispatch the officers to their various assignments, saying this all comes from a central location.
Under the plan, the fifth precinct, which includes West Hempstead and Lakeview and provides support for Malverne's village police, would merge with the fourth, most likely around the beginning of September.
"We will maintain a presence in the old police precinct," he said. "Two officers will be at the front desk ... it will always be open. From the perspective of community members, there will be very little difference from what that building will offer you."
Residents will still be able to go to the fifth precinct to pick up accident reports, have fingerprinting done or arrange for children to be swapped in the presence of an officer in the case of domestic disputes. He also said that in the future, residents will have even less of a need to go to the precincts because they will be able to do more online.
The precinct will also still house detectives, an inspector and two deputy inspectors, and officers working as special patrols will continue to work out of the fifth, which will be designated a community policing center, as well as a supervisor who overseas them, according to Skrynecki.
The non-emergency phone number for the fifth precinct will still work for a significant amount of time, but will roll over to the fourth after the realignment takes place, he said, adding, "Don't worry, we'll give plenty of notice if the number changes. I guarantee you will never call that number and get nothing."
Under the plan, there will also be more Problem Oriented Policing, or POP, cops available -- 12 in every policing center, Mangano added. The POP officers work with the community to address public safety concerns specific to the area including graffiti, illegal massage parlors and illegal alcohol sales. He explained that after cutting 148 administrative jobs, 48 of these officers were then designated as POP cops, so there will actually be more manpower protecting the streets.
Skrynecki said the plan will also even out the work distribution among the precincts, and while some officers may need to drive further to process an arrest, others will actually have a shorter commute. Regardless, this will not have much of an effect on the amount of time they are off duty after making an arrest, he said, explaining that this depends more on the details of the case and less on the distance they must travel to get to central booking.
Bottom line, Skrynecki said, the plan will not disrupt the number of patrol cars on the street and at the end of the day, "the building does not protect you, police officers protect you."
Find out what other local concerns were addressed at the March 21 meeting tomorrow in Part II of our coverage.