Written by Jordan Lauterbach Friday, 24 June 2011 00:00
Among all else, Terri Carr Muran wanted the residents gathered in the basement of St. Paul the Apostle Church on June 16 to know one thing: this was not a political rally. Instead, the event billed as “Save Our Old Brookville Police” was intended to serve as an information session for those curious about the state of negotiations between the Old Brookville Police Departmentand the six villages they serve.
“This evening is about security and safety,” Muran said. “It is not about political campaigning, although we do encourage you to vote.”
Muran is one of the founding members of The Six Village Residents Committee. She, as well as others on the committee, was “shocked” when she found out that members of the Old Brookville Police force had been laid off, leaving only two officers and one sergeant on patrol from 3:20 a.m. to 7:20 a.m.
“We have heard the side of our elected officials through letters and emails. Yet, we the residents are not completely satisfied,” Muran said. “We need transparency. We want the mayors and village officials to understand that we do not want to lose the Old Brookville Police or see it diminished in any way…we, the residents, are concerned for the job security and the future of our police. We do not want to compromise safety and that’s why we are having this meeting tonight.”
When the Village of Muttontown left to form an independent police force on June 1, the Old Brookville police were left to protect six neighboring villages - Old Brookville, Brookville, Upper Brookville, Matinecock, Mill Neck, and Cove Neck. After those six villages were not able to reach a police protection agreement by May 31, the sides agreed to a one-year extension on the current agreement.
Muttontown leaving the department caused the current budget to be $3 million short of the necessary amount needed for operation. This forced the Old Brookville Police Department to lay off 12 members.
Muran’s committee invited police consultant Wallace Zeins and Old Brookville Police Benefit Association (PBA) President Christopher Sweeney to speak to residents of all six villages about the controversy from the perspective of the police, not various government officials.
Having been laid off from the NYPD in 1974, Zeins has a special interest in the 12 laid off police officers. He met last month with the Old Brookville mayor and two police commissioners, offering suggestions on how to proceed. His support for the current police force has never waivered, he said.
“We have to have community policing,” Zeins said. “Community policing empowers community members to become stakeholders in their own safety and [transmits] a positive image of the police department in the minds of those who support it, financially and otherwise.”
Zeins stressed the need for two detectives within the department.
“We don’t have them anymore. They’re gone,” he said of the personnel needed to investigate crimes that aren’t cut and dry. “Not to say that the Nassau County Police Department can’t handle it, [but] their case load is very big. They can’t give that special attention that’s needed.”
In his closing remarks, Zeins stressed the importance of the issues at hand to the assembled residents. “This is not closing a library. This is not a closing of non- life saving community projects,” he said.
Sweeney spoke next, offering an impassioned account of the struggles the PBA has had dealing with the six villages. His first message dealt with the claims, he said, of some who are running for office who claim to be arms of the Old Brookville PBA.
“That is, in fact, not correct,” Sweeney said. “These individuals that are running for election in Old Brookville and Upper Brookville have approached us and told us that they would be willing to be open and talk, and negotiate, and be honest with us and that’s all we ask. They didn’t promise us anything. We didn’t ask and promise them anything.”
Sweeney said he has met with all six village mayors and offered money saving ideas in exchange for a longer term contract. He claims he was told that because there is uncertainty surrounding the next inter-municipality agreement, a contract lasting beyond next year would not be feasible.
The PBA also offered to have current officers give back one paycheck this year and defer another until retirement. This would save the jobs of two police officers, he said. Because three officers are retiring on July 1, Sweeney also requested that the police not lay off anyone until those retirements took effect, allowing them to replace the retiring officers with current personnel. This strategy, he said, would also save jobs. Instead of accepting these terms, he said the villages hired a teacher labor lawyer.
“The labor lawyer kept insisting that the PBA give, give, give and have nothing in return from the villages,” Sweeney said. “When I asked him ‘I hear a lot of taking from the PBA, what are you giving?’ his response was ‘we’re giving you your jobs’.”
Sweeney also claimed that it is the Village of Upper Brookville that is “holding everybody else hostage.” According to Sweeney, the Upper Brookville trustees told the other villages that they would leave and go somewhere else if they did not keep the budget at their desired amount.
Sweeney said they even went as far as contacting Nassau County and Oyster Bay Cove to investigate how much it would cost to have those police departments cover Upper Brookville, offering to give them the Old Brookville Police Department building, which stands in Upper Brookville.
“After 65 years of patrolling Upper Brookville, [these] are the type of people we’re dealing with,” Sweeney said.
He also raised concerns that the department, as currently constructed, is too small.
“The department is 26 people right now,” Sweeney said. “The new Chief of Police, Rick Smith, said ‘the department should be 40 people’.”
Residents were allowed to ask questions after Sweeney’s address. All of them were directed at Sweeney, asking for details on negotiations and statements of support for the department.
The overwhelming fear in the room was that each village would be forced to emulate Muttontown and form their own police force. According to Sweeney, that plan isn’t going all that smoothly in the recently seceded village.
“At least ten times, Nassau County police has had to come in and respond to calls in Muttontown,” he said. “Several times on the radio, the dispatcher of Nassau County has said ‘Muttontown is stacking calls.’ That means, the calls are piling up and they can’t respond to them…eventually someone is really going to get hurt with that department.”
The evening was designed to inform and educate, not lobby. While there were a few calls from residents to vote current trustees out of office, the meeting was as civil as Mauran wished it to be.
“The elephant in the room is the lack of communication between administration in each village and us,” resident Sandy Major said. “We can no longer say it’s their responsibility. It’s our responsibility and it’s the responsibility of everybody in this room who really cares to start attending your village trustee meeting and ask the questions before the decisions are made.”
Everyone present appeared to be on the same side: they wanted protection from those with the badges that read Old Brookville, and they won’t take no for an answer.