PBA to cops: Don't rush
In challenging policy to balance precinct staffing, union chief urges cops to wait for backup in emergencies
BY SID CASSESE
Newsday Staff Writer
October 6, 2006
A dispute has escalated between Nassau County and its biggest police union over a redeployment of officers - with the union's president even urging members not to rush to certain emergencies without backup.
The clash stems from a police department order last month requiring for the first time that if one precinct is above minimum staffing levels and another is below them, officers be reassigned to make up the shortfall. It would save overtime costs, officials have said.
In an e-mail to members, Gary DelaRaba, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, warns that forcing police to patrol areas with which they are unfamiliar would be dangerous and counterproductive. So he urges that in situations where two officers are required the officer join up with a partner before rushing to the scene. The e-mail said:
"I know this goes against everything you were trained to do but if you get a gun call, a baby stop[ped] breathing, violent mental aided [or] any call that requires two officers, meet [the veteran precinct officer] at a specific location then proceed as quickly as possible to the call.
"YOU ARE NOT PAID TO TAKE FOOLISH CHANCES WITH YOUR LIFE! Your number one job is to make it home after each tour of duty."
Police Commissioner James Lawrence condemned the union leader's missive as "despicable."
"I can understand DelaRaba taking issue with a department strategy, but I find it outrageous that he would direct police officers to hesitate while responding on a 'baby not breathing' emergency call, and we won't tolerate it," Lawrence said.
DelaRaba has filed one union grievance on the change, promised another, and is also considering seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the redeployment. It comes as he has declared an impasse in talks on a new contract.
Lawrence defended the redeployment and denied DelaRaba's charges of endangerment.
"We're obligated to man a certain number of posts in each precinct," said Lawrence. "Sometimes, if a precinct is above the minimum officers needed, we may send one or more of them to a precinct that is below the minimum. We would not do that if we thought it would put either the public or our officers in jeopardy. ... If there's any danger it's being created by DelaRaba.
"He doesn't give directives to the patrol in the street, and they will respond as efficiently as always," Lawrence said of DelaRaba. "But just in case, we have taken precautions. ... This [deployment policy] is not about politics but serving the people in Nassau."
Following his own news conference on the issue, DelaRaba argued yesterday that an officer waiting for a partner unfamiliar with the community could be more dangerous to an at-risk baby than delaying for a couple of minutes so they could arrive together. "That, though, would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis," he added.
DelaRaba, who has been feuding with the administration of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi for more than four years, also said at the conference that Lawrence, a former New York City police official, is copying NYPD procedures that call for such precinct transfers.
"But this is a suburban community, and policed differently," he argued. "Moreover, it is an unnecessary risk to both the public and police officers, and safety issues like these should be negotiated."
Eugene O'Donnell, an associate professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said: "At bottom, it's a labor relations issue. All the players are staking out positions. And without fixing blame, it could have a negative impact on public safety."
"The union," he said, "has to be careful that it is not seen as violating the law by expounding some kind of slowdown, and the commissioner simply does not benefit by having this kind of low-burning warfare with the rank and file - it could hurt morale."
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.