Mangano precinct plan needs scrutiny

Mangano precinct plan needs scrutiny

On the surface, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s plan to consolidate the county’s eight precincts into four in order to save $20 million seems reasonable, a notion reinforced by a single-page fact sheet at the Nassau County website and a robo-call from Mangano meant to assure us.

As is Mangano’s modus operandi, the carrot of “saving” $20 million is linked with the stick warning of a 19 percent increase in taxes if his consolidation plan does not happen, and all wrapped up in the language of extreme urgency.

We’ve been here before – which is why this proposal is suspect.

Why the bum’s rush? It’s not as if the idea of consolidating the police precincts – closing four precincts including our 6th precinct – is new. A very similar plan that was sprung on the community in August 2010 prompted extreme controversy and an outpouring of outrage. The difference in this plan is that instead of the 6th Precinct building being closed entirely, it will be “transformed” into a minimally manned “community policing center”

Yet in all that time since, Mangano never saw fit to unveil an alternative plan to consolidate or make policing more efficient, or offer any study to prove his contention that public safety will not be harmed by centralizing police at further distances, or even to show how plausible the projected savings would be, and most certainly, did not seek input from communities directly.

Providing for public safety is the singular most important function of government – it is probably the only thing that liberals and conservatives agree on. But Mangano’s insistence that this plan will not jeopardize public safety – he does not even presume to suggest that the plan will improve public safety – is suspect.

So the question we are left with is whether public safety will be harmed or not.

It is typical of Mangano’s administration to work in secret, then spring the plan, put it on a fast track with hardly an opportunity for our elected representatives, let alone the public, to examine the proposal and give some reasoned thought to what the results might be.

We have seen this movie before, with the redistricting plan that was designed to marginalize Democratic voters; the terribly flawed Nassau Coliseum/Nassau Hub plan (which is back for a committee hearing on Feb. 14), and with the bus privatization plan. In fact, every major initiative that has come from this administration has been produced in the same way – privately, secretly, then sprung with great urgency but little transparency and no accountability.

We learned at press time that there will be a meeting of the Public Safety Committee to discuss the plan on Monday, Feb. 13 at 11 a.m., which will also serve as a public hearing; and that the consolidation plan will have a public hearing at the Legislature’s meeting of Feb. 27, beginning at 1 p.m., after which a vote may be held.

Legislature (not clear where a public hearing factors in, or where public comments would have any impact at all on shaping the proposal).

Even a fiscal conservative such as Susan Lopatkin, mayor of Kensington and president of the Great Neck Village Officials Association, questions the impact on public safety and raises the key point that is completely ignored in Mangano’s plan:

What happens in an emergency?

Even if you accept the premise of the plan, that with all the technology available, that police patrol cars can operate like mobile offices (that is, assuming the machines actually work which may not be the case), and take Mangano at his word in assuring that the same number of patrol cars will be on hand.

But what if there is an emergency and you need police on hand. Doesn’t it stand to reason that it would also take more time for cops to come? Our police force would be based in the 3rd Precinct, which is at least 30 minutes away.

And this assumes you take the administration at its word, that it will maintain the same number of police on patrol. It also assumes that the number of cars now is acceptable, which is questionable for a territory as expansive as the Great Neck peninsula.

We are also supposed to take on faith the assertion that consolidation will produce a $20 million savings. Based on what? Even the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association does not know where the savings will come from, or what is counted to produce those savings.

The entire premise of the plan is that there will be 100 fewer administrative positions, and that cops who had manned desks will now be sent on patrol – 48 of them (out of the 100). That suggests that the $20 million savings would come from a net reduction in 52 individuals, who theoretically are paid now what a patrolling police person is paid.

Another essential ingredient in the cost-reductions is that over-time costs will be reduced. How would that happen, exactly? Are the 48 people on patrol supposed to somehow make overtime unnecessary for the rest of the force? Is there a different calculation for how overtime is figured, which would suggest some change to the union contract?

The Mangano people provide assurances that the building now on East Shore Road will not be closed entirely but rather will be “transformed” -along with three other precinct buildings – into a Community Policing Center. The desk jobs will all be gone, but there this center will be manned 24/7 (presumably by two people sitting at a desk), so if you are running for your life as a victim of domestic violence, you will still find someone to help you – you won’t have to flag down one of the two patrol cars that are promised to still be serving the entire Great Neck Peninsula.

However, there is no mention of the fact that detectives, who had been housed in the precinct, will no longer be on hand and what impact that has on local policing.

And the quirk concerning the covenant surrounding the property – that it will revert back to the Whitney estate if it is not used as a precinct headquarters – has been completely ignored, as if it is some sort of petty detail.

The Mangano Administration uses the argument that the proposed Community Policing Plan “modernizes Nassau’s 1970s eight precinct-building plan to account for the last 40 years of technology enhancements that have reduced administrative workload throughout the department. The COP plan corrects imbalances in current workload, as three police precincts presently perform twice the workload of the remaining five precincts.”

The Nassau County Police Department analyzed the distribution of workload within the department over the past 6 months with the goal of addressing contemporary crime trends,” the fact sheet continues. “This analysis also included identifying the reasons residents visit precinct buildings. Our research indicates that residents not subject to arrest seldom visit precinct buildings. The common instance for visiting a precinct building is to obtain a traffic accident report. Accordingly, the department will make this information available on the Internet to assist residents, as well as at precincts and Community Policing Centers.

“This plan saves taxpayers significant dollars while streamlining duplicative work, redistributing workload and assigning more officers to POP and special patrol,” said Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale. “Nassau County police officers change shift at their post and not at the station houses like you see in the movies. Residents should know that response time will not be impacted as police officers will remain in their current neighborhoods and additional officers will be assigned to our neighborhoods.”

Technological enhancements have truly helped make law enforcement response more efficient and effective in fighting crime. Patrol cars have become mobile precincts as they are presently equipped with computers, Shotspotter and the REAL Time Intel System. Officers receive briefings in their vehicles and input intelligence and key information right from their own patrol vehicle.

According to the administration, the reorganization will not change the way a 911 call is handled. When residents dial 911, the call goes to a 911 Call Center in New Cassel, then to the police car in your neighborhood. All 177 police cars will remain in their current locations. At no point does a resident’s 911 call go to any police precinct as those buildings are used for residents seeking accident and other reports, the processing of criminals and processing of paperwork.

“This plan won’t affect you at all, unless you are a criminal,” a Mangano aide said when I called to respond to the robo-call I had just received. “If you are a criminal, it will take longer to get to the precinct to be processed.”

Mangano, in his robo-call, hauls out that old buggaboo: you either take the consolidation or taxes will rise 19 percent (and what happened to all the other cost cutting measures, which were aimed at preventing such a catastrophe? I thought that’s why we privatized Long Island Bus and fired 500 people.)

But what if the objective of the plan is more about continuing the attack on public unions, as we have already seen in Mangano’s budget process, and providing less service in areas that are Democratic strongholds, both which are politically strategic, rather than in the public interest.

The administration further justifies the consolidation by pointing to an 11% decline in the crime rate.

But what if crime went down because of the network of policing we have now; if the crime rate goes up, won’t the cost to our community, our society, exceed the supposed $20 million savings?

“To simply portray this as saving $20 million and not going into any other details, is disingenuous at best,” said Russell Gardens Deputy Mayor Martin Adickman.

Adickman questions why there has been no analysis, no study done of the impacts of consolidation, and points to a 2007 White Paper by New Jersey Chiefs of Police that went into the impacts of consolidation. The reality is that consolidation of police or school districts does not necessarily achieve the cost savings that are advertised.

“The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police urges those considering consolidation to avoid simplistic assessments,” the paper said. “Determining that consolidation brings substantial immediate costs is not a sufficient reason to discontinue a complete and detailed investigation.  On the other hand, a determination that consolidation may bring some long-term financial savings in and of itself is not sufficient to make a final decision to move forward with consolidation.  

“Rather, consolidation should be viewed in the totality of police services, citizen and officer satisfaction, and the capacity to best serve the public and fight crime.  Looking at this larger picture, policy makers, law enforcement leaders, and the public can make informed decisions based on the widest possible number of relevant factors, and perhaps avoid costly and ill considered judgments that ultimately may not prove to be in the long-term interest of the communities which will be required to live with the consequences of such decisions.”

Adickman commented, “I am against the county executive’s consolidation of the police precincts in the manner proposed, but I particularly object to the manner in which it is being presented. I object to the process, the process is flawed. This should be aired properly, in the light of day.”

As Mayor Lopatkin said, “The devil is in the details.”

At presstime, North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said he was organizing a meeting with mayors and also hearing comments from police unions.

“I think the important thing is to hear all sides of the matter,” he said. “I did have the opportunity to listen to the proposal, and I’ve now been in touch with a number of the police unions who are taking the lead in questioning the proposal.  On Wednesday, the Town of North Hempstead is hosting a meeting of mayors and other officials at which the county will present its plan. I am looking forward to hearing the presentation and being part of the larger discussion with all of our officials present.”

At presstime, Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth, who was in the ninth hour of a meeting of the Legislature commented in an e-mail, “There is no way that this doesn’t compromise public safety. The schools and our community rely heavily on the services of the precincts – detectives, POP cops, etc”

On Tuesday, Feb. 14 residents should vote in favor of a Great Neck School Capital Projects Proposition to spend $17,184,085 to renovate, repair, and improve our aging buildings and grounds. The cost of all renovations/improvements will be funded from the Unassigned Fund Balance and will not result in an increase in the tax rate.

This should be a no-brainer, because it simply authorizes the district to spend money it already has in order to make necessary repairs and improvements.

The alternative is to allow deterioration of facilities that will surely result in more costly construction, probably require school buildings to be closed and the students housed in temporary quarters, and necessitate higher expense and debt service.

Once again, the school board has acted in the highest level of fiduciary responsibility.

“We’ve been talking for more than a year about aging infrastructure and what we can do without impacting current or future taxpayers,” School Board President Barbara Berkowitz commented. “None of these projects can be considered ‘frills’, ‘unnecessary’ or extravagant. This is sound financial planning.”

Among the projects: are district-wide Improvements for technology equipment upgrades, improvements, and purchases; generator expansion and enhancement at the buildings; repairing a wall at Saddle Rock school to stop water penetration, replacing a boiler/climate control/steam trap and roof at Cumberland Adult Center, among others (a complete list with dollar amounts is available at the district site).

 Voting on the Proposed Capital Projects Proposition will be held on Feb. 14, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are two voting locations: Baker School (69 Baker Hill Road) for residents living north of the LIRR, and South High School (341 Lakeville Road), for residents living south of the LIRR.

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