Dem legislators, community groups protest Blakeman’s ‘private army’

Dem legislators, community groups protest Blakeman’s ‘private army’
Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) speaks at a rally in Mineola Monday morning. (Photo by Taylor Herzlich)

Nassau County Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), other Democrat legislators and residents protested Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s emergency deputy sheriff program at a news conference in Mineola Monday morning.

Protesters carried signs with phrases including “Nassau County is not the Wild West,” “Civilians with guns = unsafe streets” and “Eclipse Blakeman’s militia,” the latter a reference to the solar eclipse which took place Monday afternoon, and chanted “No militia! No way!”

“We’re here today because an idea of deputizing a private army with citizens is a terrible one for two simple reasons, in my opinion,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “No. 1, we don’t need it. We have one of the best police forces in the nation. And No. 2, we don’t want it.”

Nassau County is rated the safest county in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report.

And the Nassau Police Department is well-funded. In Nassau, 971 county workers earned more than $200,000 in 2022, with 942 of these 971 highest paid employees working for police or corrections, according to Newsday.

But Blakeman seeks to expand county law enforcement by bringing in emergency special deputy sheriffs to provide protection during county-wide emergencies.

“Some people belittle how much money and time we spend on training and going through all of our emergency operations,” Blakeman said at a press conference in Mineola Friday afternoon about the day’s earthquake. “You never know what you’ll wake up to in the morning.”

A Nassau County ad called for county property or business owners, specifically former law enforcement and military veterans, to apply to the emergency sheriff position.

The posting comes after the Nassau Police Department reported a 6.5% drop in major crimes over the first 11 months of 2023, as well as a 12.9% drop in all crime in January 2024.

The implementation of the special deputy sheriffs was not sought out through legislative or union approval, according to Newsday, and many legislators were unaware of the new positions until the newspaper inquired.

The application deadline was March 31. It is not known how many individuals applied and how many sheriffs the county would like to hire.

Efforts to reach Blakeman were unavailing.

Nassau County already employs around 60 deputy sheriffs under the Sheriff’s Department, according to Newsday. These deputy sheriffs do not respond to 911 calls, but they do execute warrants, serve court orders and conduct evictions.

DeRiggi-Whitton said she spoke with current county officers who oppose the deputy sheriff program.

“I have been approached by so many different police officers and from not only Nassau County, but from Glen Cove and other areas, and they’re very concerned about this,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “And the No. 1 reason is it’s hard enough in an emergency situation. If there’s someone there that they’re not familiar with and doesn’t identify themselves correctly, it could be a disaster.”

Susan Gottehrer, the director of the Nassau County NYCLU Chapter, questioned the logistics of the emergency deputy sheriff program. She asked if the sheriffs will be visibly identified with uniforms, who will command the sheriffs, how much training the sheriffs will receive, whether the sheriffs will be given other weapons upon hiring such as tasers or batons and if the sheriffs will be required to wear body cameras.

Like other legislators and speakers at the rally, Gottehrer said she wanted to know the definition of a county emergency according to Blakeman.

“[As] a parent of a young man, a young black man, who sometimes wants to wear a hood. God forbid a young man wearing a hood is out about minding his business during this so-called state of emergency,” Legislator Carrié Solages (D-Valley Stream) said. “And God forbid an overzealous, George Zimmerman type of person chooses to think that that young man is a danger.”

Zimmerman is a former neighborhood-watch volunteer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida in 2012.

“We cannot allow this to happen. This is not Florida. This is Nassau County,” said Barbara Powell, president of the NAACP Hempstead branch. “We do not want people running around here preying on anyone, let alone the black and the brown people walking around minding their business.”

Legislators questioned the financial cost of the emergency sheriff program, claiming that the funding would come from taxpayer dollars.

Residents at the rally worried about the potential of a “citizen army” and said they could not think of any county emergency in which a special deputy sheriff program would be warranted.

“We have plenty of police officers and the National Guard if needed,” said Dana, a Nassau County resident who wished to keep her last name anonymous. “It is horrible to think about [the deputy sheriff program] happening in Nassau County, a place where we love to live.”

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  1. Blakeman’s Militia is a MAGA power play.
    Trump wants a Civil War and Blakeman
    is on board to deliver armed intervention right here in Nassau County.
    Like Trump, He has visions of greater power,
    In any invented “Crisis” or emergency of his choosing. In the MAGA world, it is the
    Law of Rule, not the Rule of Law that matters most. Mr. Blakeman has shown us all we need to know about his ambitions and they are based in authoritarian means. His Militia is a red-flag for his removal from office.

  2. As of April 12, the petition has 1750 signatures and the new goal is 2500. The vast majority of people who hear about this are against it – including law enforcement professionals.

    Also telling is the large number of people who have NOT heard anything about this – because Blakeman rolled this out without any press releases and without seeking public input. The reaction of most people when they learn about this militia is overwhelmingly negative.

    So please – if you haven’t already, sign and share the petition and let’s STOP THE NASSAU COUNTY MILITIA!


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