Just two dozen or so members of the public turned out to meet the candidates running for the office of PW Police District Commissioner on Wednesday evening, Nov. 29, at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The present Commissioner Robert W. Persons, is seeking another three-year term; his challenger is Barry Loeb. Both answered audience questions that were philosophical, practical, and fiscal in nature. Voters will have to make up their minds by Tuesday, Dec. 12, the day of the election; votes must be cast at the Polish American Hall from noon to 9:00 p.m. The winner will join the two other commissioners for this police district, James Duncan and Sal Zimbardi.
(L. to r.) Challenger Barry Loeb, LWV moderator Phoebe Goodman and incumbent Commissioner Robert Persons.
Saying "The police district has moved forward, but it is not complete yet," Mr. Loeb added that communication -- within the department, between the department and the community, with the school district -- is an important issue. In his opening statement, Mr. Persons said he "loves the town." Still, when he opened his tax bill in January, 1995, he grew curious when he saw the increase. Since then, he remarked, he has done studies of all the police districts in Nassau County, and compared salaries and costs.
Ms. Phoebe Goodman of the League was the moderator, taking written and oral questions from the small audience. In response to resident Hank Ratner's question about numerous proposed development projects and its impact on the police department, Mr. Persons expressed that "we are healthily fortified here - we aren't stretched too thin." Continuing, he said that additional patrolmen might have to be added if the population grows significantly, but that would also depend on the type of people, for instance, seniors, or teenagers. On this issue, Mr. Loeb generally agreed. "We have a standard of service to maintain, and we can sustain a certain amount of growth without increasing the department, but if all the projects mentioned are done,we would have to expand our police presence."
The candidates were also asked for their ideas for cost-containment. Asked what they have, or will do to keep costs down, Mr. Loeb said he hoped to continue to "civilianize the department wherever possible." Mr. Persons said during his tenure that the costs of insurance had been lowered, and that they have a "penny-pinching procurement officer." He also felt replacing those retiring with lower-salaried employees would help as well. But they largely agreed that the exceedingly swift response times by the PWPD outweighs switching to a reliance on the Nassau County Police Department. When it was suggested to Mr. Persons that at one time he advocated for the elimination of the PD, and asked about his current view, Mr. Persons said he was not even remotely suggesting this. When asked about the future of the PWPD by resident Owen Costello, Mr. Persons replied, "As long as there is no corruption, malfeasance, or complacency," the department will go on. Mr.Loeb answered that he views it "as the communitiy-oriented entity that it is ... they afford us response times, (etc.) that others couldn't give us."
Charles Dawson asked the candidates to state their specific accomplishments or qualifications. Mr. Loeb cited his work with the Charter Revision committee, who are "pushing for reforms to benefit our community ... It is on a fine track of fiscal responsibility." Commissioner Persons said he began to work on problems before becoming commissioner in 1997. As treasurer, he found that the district was paying money to Nassau County for 911 equipment, which is already covered by Port Police. A proposal is under way to return some funds and to eliminate having the charge to telephones within this police district.
Several audience members asked for thoughts about increasing the police role in preventing accidents (like fires, auto accidents) and being more proactive. Mr. Loeb responded that the police district has enforcement powers only, not legislative powers, but does have the capability of making recommendations to other bodies. At another point, he stated his belief that the commissioners should be the recipients of information from the community, and the channel through which the public's needs are answered. Mr. Persons said "There is no excuse for people to flaunt the laws, causing hazardous situations, like speeding," adding the qualification that some antiquated or ill-conceived laws do need revision.
When questioned about the recent problem of gangs in this area, the candidates' answers were as serious as the subject. Mr. Loeb said that when the PD was apprised of gang activity, the response was swift and strong. He'd like to "heighten our efforts in this area ... and tell them they aren't wanted." Commissioner Persons explained that in response to gang activity, they had reassigned manpower; computerwise, the district is also linked to every police district on LI and Queens. "Very few [gang members] live here - most live out of the district," he stated, adding that they tended, mostly, to harass other gang members. "We are on top of the situation," he commented.
Some questions from some audience members probed the backgrounds of the candidates in terms of arrests, charges against them, or investigations by the district attorney's office. Mr. Loeb and Mr. Persons made clear that they possess clean records.
Residents are urged to vote for their candidate on Dec. 12 at the Polish American Hall, located at 5 Pulaski Place. Voting will take place between noon and 9:00 p.m.