Petition against Blakeman’s ‘militia’ draws over 2,000 signatures

Petition against Blakeman’s ‘militia’ draws over 2,000 signatures
Petition creator Sabine Margolis hands the petition and its more than 2,000 signatures to the county legislature during its meeting Monday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Concerned Citizens of NY-03)

In just two weeks more than 2,000 individuals have signed a petition demanding the disbanding of the county’s new emergency special deputy sheriff program which would deputize residents with firearm licenses to assist law enforcement during emergencies.

On Monday afternoon, petition creator Sabine Margolis handed over the 2,120 signatures to the county legislature’s clerk as she addressed County Executive Bruce Blakeman and the legislators during their meeting.

“Mr. Blakeman, we are a community of very diverse backgrounds,” Margolis said. “Your job is being a steward, and as a steward you need to address what the community needs.”

The petitioning group asked for a public hearing to be held to discuss the issues and “bring some transparency back to our county,” Jody Kass Finkel, coordinator of Concerned Citizens of NY-03, said.

On March 17, the county had an ad published in Newsday calling for special deputy sheriff applicants “for the protection of human life and property during an emergency.” Specifically being sought were individuals with law enforcement or military backgrounds.

The announcement took Nassau County officials by surprise. Legislators and union leaders said they had little knowledge of the initiative and the administration did not seek
legislative approval or consult with union officials.

“This cannot just be a whimsical thing where you put an ad in the paper and they shall come,” Margolis said.

In the wake of the announcement of these positions, many residents and local officials have scrutinized the program for the danger it could present, including multiple Democratic county legislators.

Standing in support of the petition was state Senate District 7 candidate Kim Keiserman, who is a Democrat from Port Washington.

Keiserman said her concerns lie in public safety and a desire to support the county’s already sufficient law enforcement.

“Building a militia of untrained, armed civilian vigilantes does in no way support law enforcement, it doesn’t make our community safer and, in fact, it puts law enforcement and families and children at risk in cases of an emergency if we have our streets flooded with people who are untrained and unsupervised,” Keiserman said.

While more than 2,000 petitioners have already signed on, Margolis said the petition has garnered more than 10,000 views. She said this makes her proud of those who were brave enough to put their name on the petition.

“So I’m pretty sure there are many more that have the same sentiment but might feel uncomfortable,” Margolis said. “I’d like to be the spark with this petition that people feel comfortable about voicing their opinions and making it a better place.”

Nearly 100 more individuals have signed the petition since it was handed over to the Legislature, with now 2,205 people joining in the cries to disband the emergency law enforcement group.

The political parties of the signees are not available, Margolis said, but cited comments on the petition where individuals said they had voted for Blakeman and were distressed by the emergency deputy sheriffs.

Margolis said it is not a partisan issue, but rather one that concerns the community at large.

She showed a map of the petitioners who have signed on, saying that about 80% reside in Nassau County and one of the biggest communities supporting it is Great Neck.

“I’m very honored to have so many voices support this idea that we should not have a militia, that we should have our voices heard,” Margolis said.

She called the group of emergency special deputy sheriffs a “militia” that is working at the behest of Blakeman. The county executive denied these claims at an April 4 press conference.

Concerns Margolis raised included the potential abuse of power, effects on marginalized communities, safety, vigilanteism and a plethora of unanswered questions about the formation and implementation of the group.

“What is the problem he’s really trying to solve?” Margolis asked. “Why are we doing this? And I think even if you had answers to the questions that we have, we still wouldn’t want the militia.”

Blakeman said at the April 4 press conference that political protests that escalate to riots would be among the kinds of county emergencies in which the special deputy sheriffs would be activated.

“We’re just protesting here, bringing up our voices, how will that be used against us?” Margolis asked.

Finkel questioned whether Blakeman has the authority to implement the law enforcement group, citing a 1965 law that states emergency special deputy candidates must be pooled from other municipalities’ law enforcement officers.

“There is nothing, nothing in the statute or in the legislative history that suggests the armoring of gun-owning civilians,” Finkel said.

She said his decision to pay the deputies $150 a day is also beyond his authority and is one to be established by the Legislature.

“He’s doing (this) completely outside of government and completely without any foundation on a legal basis,” Finkel said.

About a dozen residents spoke against the special deputies during the Legislature’s public comment period, some expressing fears about the group’s implementation.

One resident expressed concern over the vetting process of the applicants, saying the accused Long Island serial killer Rex Heuermann could have qualified due to his legal ownership of guns.

After the public comment period was closed, no legislator or Blakeman acknowledged or responded to the comments.

The petitioning group said no communication has been achieved with Blakeman.

Efforts to solicit comment from Blakeman were unavailing.

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