Nassau County minority caucus calls special deputy sheriff program ‘flagrantly illegal’

Nassau County minority caucus calls special deputy sheriff program ‘flagrantly illegal’
Members of the Nassau County Legislature Minority Caucus. (Photo provided by Office of Legislator Carrié Solages)

All seven Nassau County Democrat legislators called the county’s new emergency special deputy sheriff program “misguided” and “flagrantly illegal” and that County Executive Bruce Blakeman does not have the power to enact it.

“No portion of County Law §655 authorizes you as the County Executive to establish a list of citizens and train said citizens for the purpose of maintaining a cohort of individuals to serve as emergency special deputies,” the letter to Blakeman states.

The special deputy sheriff program is a collection of Nassau County residents who are already licensed firearm owners. The program specifically sought out applicants who already had law enforcement or military background.

The program has garnered staunch opposition, including an online petition calling for the disbandment of the special deputy sheriff program which has garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

Many of those in opposition to the program have referred to it as Blakeman’s “militia.” The petition also refers to the program as “Blakeman’s personal Nassau County militia.”

In a letter signed by all seven Democrats in the county Legislature, the minority caucus said the program is “grossly inappropriate, risks public safety, and wastes taxpayer money.”

“​​Not only does empowering undertrained civilians to perform critical governmental functions during the time of a crisis – bearing firearms, no less – pose obvious risks to public safety, it is illegal,” the letter states. “Moreover, it is illogical to comprehend how civilians with barely a month of training can be granted the authority to carry deadly weapons under law enforcement powers, while Nassau County Auxiliary police officers, despite undergoing a comprehensive 40-week, 150-hour training program, are not deemed qualified for similar responsibilities.”

Efforts to solicit comment from Blakeman were unavailing.

The minority caucus includes Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D–Glen Cove), Deputy Minority Leader Arnold Drucker (D–Plainview), and Legislators Siela A. Bynoe (D – Westbury), Carrié Solages (D – Valley Stream), Debra Mulé (D – Freeport). Scott M. Davis (D – Rockville Centre) and Seth I. Koslow (D – Merrick).

The caucus states in their letter that the power to appoint special deputy sheriffs is only bestowed upon the sheriff and only during designated special emergencies, as outlined under county and general municipal law.

Blakeman said the volunteer deputy sheriffs would only be deputized during a declared emergency, including political protests that become riots.

While the county executive can declare an emergency, the minority caucus cites general municipal law that states emergencies can only be declared after first notifying the governor. The governor is also able to deny any emergency declaration.

They state the governor’s veto power on declared emergencies exists to “safeguard against potential abuses of power.”

“There is no special emergency presently in effect and you have sent no communication to the Governor to commence the declaration of one,” the letter states. “Nor do you have the power, as you appear to be claiming, to “provisionally” assemble a list of special deputies in the absence of a duly declared emergency, as no such authority is granted to local sheriffs under the law. It is also an obvious waste of the County’s resources to do so.”

The caucus also expressed disdain for the criteria to apply for the program, saying it relies mostly upon the applicant’s possession of a firearm license.

They say this is also a violation of the law, which requires that emergency special deputy sheriffs be pulled from active law enforcement personnel like neighboring county deputy sheriffs.

The general municipal law states that sheriffs may request from other sheriffs “such number of their deputy sheriffs as may be available…. and to deputize as emergency special deputy sheriffs of his county any or all personnel so supplied by the sheriff of any other county.”

“The law does not authorize or contemplate the deputization of unqualified civilians,” the letter states.

The minority caucus also said the compensation for the special deputies is illegal.

The advertisement soliciting applicants states the emergency special deputy sheriffs would be paid $150 a day. The minority caucus referenced county legislation that requires such individuals to be paid no more than $3 an hour, unless a different compensation amount is approved by the Legislature.

The compensation of the special deputy sheriffs did not face the legislature for a vote of approval.

In an April 12 letter from Bynoe, a member of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, she said there were lapses of information that inhibited the public and the legislature’s ability to fully understand the program. The minority caucus said the concerns in her letter have not been addressed yet.

“You are arrogating to yourself power you do not have to advance an inflammatory and illegal political stunt that wastes time, money, and attention that should be devoted to our County’s real issues and concerns,” the letter states. “We call on you to abandon it immediately.”

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