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New Police Commissioner Assumes Post

Vows to Achieve Economies

Newly-elected Police Commissioner Bob Persons was sworn in at Port Washington Police Headquarters on Dec. 16 to succeed the previous incumbent, PC Kenny. Persons' successful bid for the position on a campaign platform of streamlining the PWPD to achieve economies is the per person expenditure required to maintain adequate staffing and service levels. According to Steve Kaplan, spokesperson for the Police Charter Revision Committee, the 59 member police force costs taxpayers approximately $8.5 million a year to maintain. Mr. Persons breaks this cost down to a $226 charge per resident per year which he contrasts to lower per person expenses for police services in comparably sized neighboring communities. Persons' research revealed uniformly lower expenditures elsewhere:

1 Village of Hempstead $148
2 Rockville Center $164
3 Floral Park $171
4 Garden City $171
5 Glen Cove $182
6 Long Beach $182
7 Freeport $192
8 Nassau County $204
9 Lynbrook $209
10 Port Washington $226

Persons aims to trim expenses for PWPD to achieve a measure of tax relief for overburdened participants of the tax roll, not by reducing the number of officers on patrol or by lengthening police response time, he says. His plan is to pare down a top-heavy command staff through attrition. As ranking officers retire or leave the force, Persons plans to vote against replacing them until the PWPD reduces the proportion of ranking officers on staff to police officers, he declares. At present, Persons says that 29 percent of the Port Washington staff is supervisory and is paid a supervisory differential. He contrasts the average composition of other local police forces at a 21-22 percent ratio of ranking officers to police officers. Garden City is exceptional, he notes, with a 27 percent ratio. Commissioner Persons believes in the need for the PWPD to reduce its inflated ratio until the force composition conforms to the recommendations contained in the report issued by the Albany-based Bureau of Municipal Police following its recent review of PWPD practices, he affirms.

Persons believes the department should be staffed at 55 and if the desk were civilianized for additional savings, the size would drop to 51. "If the force gets down to 55 in the next few years," the police payroll will be more appropriate to the local tax base, he states. Present tax rates are excessive and are supporting police services the community cannot afford, he believes.

Spokesperson Kaplan expresses concern about Commissioner Persons' cutting edge. How much will the community benefit by saving the cost of four - eight police officers if a reduced police presence succeeds less in preventing crime in Port Washington, he wonders. What price do the budget-cutters put on violent crimes, quality of life crimes and drug trade prevented. An ounce of crime prevention by a fully staffed police force is worth a pound of court and jail time and reduced property values when crime is controlled less because of reduced police operations in the community, he believes. Desk officers are a must, according to Kaplan. He relates his personal encounter with desk personnel after he suffered an assault. No civilian could ever have handled his situation with equal professionalism and effectiveness, he believes. For him, police officers sworn to handle the emergencies that come to a police desk are indispensable and unreplaceable. He also professes his admiration for the accomplishments of the three COPE officers on foot and bicycle patrol that were added to the Force when two of three incumbent police commissioners, Kenny and Smitheimer, signed the three year contract with the police district in December 1995 agreeing to additional personnel. The presence of COPE officers on the Town Dock and other places where young people congregate has amply justified their addition to the Force by their proven abilities to handle young people and prevent emergencies and law-breaking activities around town, in Kaplan's view.

Still, Mr. Persons finds the PWPD "above minimum staffing levels" as described in the Bureau of Municipal Police Report. "Crime goes up and down with the economy and is not proportionate to police presence," he stated in a telephone interview. Police rarely see a crime in progress. They react after the commission of criminal acts; more police presence does not correspond to less criminal activity; therefore, Mr. Persons continues to call for reducing police staff to relieve taxpayers of unnecessary expense for redundant services. He also takes umbrage on behalf of taxpayers for the 14.23 percent pay increase over three years that the 1995 contract signed by Commissioners Kenny and Smitheimer gave to the police. "They gave away the store," he believes. "The raise is twice the recent increase in the CPI (Consumer Price Index). The cost of living increase has been less than three percent," he explains. This contract is "too benevolent" to the police, says Commissioner Persons, Nevertheless, he and his fellow commissioners will have to abide by the contract until it expires, he says.

PC Persons' inauguration was his initiation into the troika of PWPD police commissioners. He will serve a three year term along with PC Roy Smitheimer, also chairman of the BID (Business Improvement District) and PC James Duncan, also chief of fire safety, president of Flower Hill Fire Company and former Nassau County policeman. The three commissioners will work with the Charter Revision Committee and counselor Steve Ressa to update the 65-year-old charter presently governing the PWPD. Revisions will address contemporary issues of police district powers, the role and powers of auxiliary police, special police, the Town Constable; election procedures for police commissioners; funding and budgeting for the police district; accounting; procedures with respect to distributions of asset forfeiture and making public announcements concerning the application procedures for applying for use of funds acquired through asset forfeiture. Spokesperson Steve Kaplan appeals to concerned citizens to show interest in helping with the Charter Revision by attending meetings at PW Police Headquarters on the 2dn and 4th Tuesday evenings of every month.

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