The best paid county employee in New York State in 2020 was John Barrett, a Nassau police officer who received $319,915, according to See Through NY, a nonpartisan think-tank.
The second best paid county employee in the state in 2020 was Vincent Papa, a Nassau police officer who received $311,355.
The third best paid county employee was Stephen Fitzpatrick, a Nassau police officer who received $308,732.
In fact, five of the top 10 best paid county employees in New York state in 2020 were members of the Nassau County Police Department. And about 445 made more than $200,000 in 2020.
So Nassau County police are not doing bad in the pay department among county employees. Only Suffolk County comes close in compensation. And we are not even discussing the benefits received by Nassau police, current and retired, which are among the highest given to county employees in the state.
To this compensation now add a $3,000 annual stipend for wearing body cameras if the PBA approves a new labor agreement with the county.
Members of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association in December rejected a new labor agreement that would pay officers $3,000 annually to wear body cameras and provide raises of 25 percent over the 8-1/2-year pact.
But the chance of approval now seems pretty good given Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s announcement that the county has purchased 2,500 body cameras for all county uniformed police officers and supervisors to wear as “a proven tool for accountability, safety and improved officer performance.”
The question is why pay well-compensated officers already slated to get a 25 percent raise to wear body cameras in a post-George Floyd world? In 2021, that’s like paying police for a badge and a gun. So why the $3,000?
Nassau County currently is one of three of the 50 largest police forces in the country that do not widely equip their officers with body cameras. The reason given for not requiring body cameras by county departments and elected officials is the cost of implementation.
But this is—how shall we say it?—nonsense.
The estimated cost to fully implement the police body-worn camera program by the end of the year is approximately $5 million in a county that spends nearly $900 million for its Police Department and more than $153 million for its Sheriff’s Department
Not to mention the other police forces across the country – most in less affluent areas than Nassau – that have widely equipped their officers with body cameras.
So perhaps the $3,000 is the cost of getting Nassau’s police to accept what almost every other force its size already does.
That idea is further supported by the outsized political clout of police unions in Nassau politics and the fact that this is an election year for Curran and all the county legislators.
At her press conference on May 27, Curran also announced the launch of a diversity committee for police hiring in response to a Newsday investigation that found Long Island’s police forces disqualified Black and Hispanic recruits at higher rates than white applicants.
Curran said the new committee will be charged with examining three areas of police hiring: recruitment, testing and training.
We suggest that the committee add a fourth area – how well county police officers reflect the people they serve.
Another recent Newsday investigation of Nassau and Suffolk police also raised questions about whether the word of Suffolk and Nassau police could be trusted in arrest reports.
In four cases in which the paper performed an in-depth investigation, it found a civilian video captured scenes involving police officers and the people they arrested that contradicted what the police officers wrote in their arrest records.
“Based on the judgments of independent criminal justice experts, the findings include evidence that officers jailed citizens without cause and used unjustified force exposing taxpayers to lawsuit liabilities totaling more than $4.6 million so far,” Newsday reported.
New York Attorney General Letitia James in May criticized Nassau County’s “failure to create meaningful checks on law enforcement” because county officials in a police reform plan did not propose a civilian review board to probe allegations of police misconduct.
James later rejected a request from Nassau Democrats for her office to provide some level of independent oversight over cops — an inspector general or a civilian complaint review board.
James said she doesn’t have the funding to open an office in Nassau. She wrote that if Nassau wants true accountability, it should create a civilian complaint review board.
That’s a good idea we support along with the body cameras.
The body camera should be welcomed by police who say the vast majority of the men and women in blue are often unfairly blamed for a few bad apples. County Republicans joined a national campaign to support local police during the Black Lives Matter protests, citing among things harsh criticism of county police and New York City police living in Nassau.
The cameras and an independent review board would seem the best way to prove that Nassau police are doing their jobs well and to get rid of what is said to be a few bad apples.
In 2020, U.S. News & World Report supported the idea that Nassau is getting its money’s worth from the county police, ranking Nassau as the safest county in the country amid declining major crime figures and increased spending on police and fire protection.
U.S. News awarded Nassau a score of 100 in their “Healthiest Communities” rankings based on three categories. They included a violent crime rate of 133.8 per 100,000 residents compared to a national average of 231.
They also gave points to the county for per capita spending annually on public safety of $1,148 compared to a national average of $359.
Unmentioned by U.S. News & World Report is whether the county can afford this.
Nassau’s finances have been under state supervision since 2000 and have required financial bailouts and financial assistance as recently as this year.
Federal and state COVID relief money – on top of the refinancing of county debt by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority – should kick the can down the road for the county for the next year or two.
But NIFA has raised red flags for the years beyond.
Paying $3,000 a year, every year, to already very well-paid police to wear body cameras does little to make us think the county’s financial fortunes will change anytime soon.
Let’s hope the body cameras will at least increase the public’s trust in the county police.