Changes fail to quell fight over Floral Park police law

Changes fail to quell fight over Floral Park police law

Floral Park officials tweaked a proposed law to increase the requirements for the village police commissioner’s job, but not enough to convince police officers and residents that it’s a good idea.

The village Board of Trustees tabled the proposal a second time Tuesday night after amending it to give trustees less leeway and removing one job requirement residents decried as unnecessary.

But a crowd of about 75 people said it would still set the bar unnecessarily high, preventing Floral Park’s highest ranking officers from applying for their department’s top post.

While they praised current Commissioner Stephen McAllister’s work, some said the law appears unfairly tailored to his background.

“The timing is suspicious, the language is ambiguous, and yet sets conditions that shut out our own,” said Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz, president of Floral Park’s Hillcrest Civic Association.

The board’s initial proposal drew fire in November because it replaced the current codified requirements with language allowing trustees to change the requirements with a resolution, which would not require a public hearing.

Trustees “thought that critique … was a fair one” and decided to spell out the new requirements in the village code, with a clause saying the board can set more requirements with a resolution, Mayor Thomas Tweedy said.

The board removed the requirement of a certification from a nationally recognized training program such as the FBI National Academy.

Under the new law, a commissioner would still need at least 15 years of police experience with at least five years as a lieutenant or higher, and at least a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.

“We do not believe this is an onerous high threshold to attain, and is a fair measure of the importance the candidate places upon his or her desire to serve as commissioner of Floral Park,” Tweedy said.

As first approved in 1984 and amended in 2000, the village code gives trustees authority to appoint a police commissioner who has at least 10 years of municipal police experience and has held a rank of lieutenant or higher in a force outside the village, or sergeant or higher in the village Police Department.

The commissioner serves under a renewable two-year contract and is currently paid $190,000 annually.

Tweedy maintained his stance that higher qualifications are necessary to give the village the best police protection possible in a changing law enforcement landscape.

But none of Floral Park’s current officers would meet those requirements, said Robert Pedley, president of the Floral Park Police Benevolent Association, the police officers’ union.

The two lieutenants, the highest-ranking officers, have the requisite police experience but not a master’s degree, Pedley said. One of the six sergeants, the second-highest rank, has a doctorate and is also a college professor, but the new law would disqualify sergeants from the commissioner’s job.

“You’re doing everything in your power to make this a second career for retired persons, whether it be Commissioner McAllister or future retirees,” Pedley said.

The new law would also exclude a provision allowing a commissioner promoted from within the department to return to his or her rank after leaving the commissioner’s office.

That would prevent the police department from having three lieutenants instead of the usual two, which has caused staffing problems in the past, Tweedy said.

But residents and cops said it would be unfair to effectively remove a promoted commissioner from the department after leading it.

Regardless of the board’s intent, some residents said Tuesday, it looks as if trustees are shaping the requirements around McAllister to keep him in the commissioner’s post.

“The appearance is it has less to do with what’s best for Floral Park residents and more to do with what’s best for friends of the mayor,” John Miccio, a resident, said.

McAllister, a Floral Park resident, took the job in 2010 after retiring from the NYPD in 2009. His contract was renewed in May, but the state Civil Service Commission rejected his application this year to receive his NYPD pension and Floral Park salary simultaneously.

Tweedy said the village is concerned about appearances, but rejected the assertion that it is aiming to accommodate McAllister.

“It’s codifying what we’ve done for the last six years,” Tweedy said.

Trustees will again consider residents’ feedback as they consider further revisions to the law, he said.

By Noah Manskar

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