Near North Hempstead Town Hall, the Villa Milano Italian restaurant in Manhasset is in the “center of the action,” said Donald Benvenuto, the co-owner.
And he was part of the action when he recently collected 350 signatures on a petition opposing the merger of the third and sixth police precincts.
Since the decision was made in 2012 to merge eight Long Island precincts into four, residents have protested the action, which according to Benvenuto has resulted in underpatrolled neighborhoods.
“This is a neighborhood where everyone is concerned, and being here 31 years I feel a part of committing myself to the community. We need the police forces,” Benvenuto said.
Benvenuto was against consolidating police forces from the start, he said. Since he began the petition, he said, the response from residents has been positive.
“Most of them didn’t even know that they had closed the sixth precinct, and they were shocked. [Residents] were very happy to start a petition for the reopening,” Benvenuto said.
Benvenuto also received a response from an official involved, when Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth visited the restaurant to sign and collect the list of signatures, later presenting the petition to the Nassau County Legislature.
“I think it is eye-opening to see how many local residents are unhappy with the sixth precinct merger, especially now that we are seeing the results are not what they expected. The residents of North Hempstead are making it clear that they want it reopened,” Bosworth said.
Initially, the merger was proposed to save costs of approximately $20 million, but four years later officials including Bosworth are questioning whether its brought the promised savings.
The secretary of the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, Susan Auriemma, said the merger hasn’t led to savings, citing a police shortage which has resulted in a large amount of overtime pay.
“I think it’s a matter of time [the precincts are de-merged]. The county needs to admit it was a matter of saving money and they did not meet their objective,” Auriemma said.
It is an issue of safety and quality of life for one of the highest tax-paying regions in the country, Auriemma said. In May, Auriemma’s organization and the founder and facilitator of the Manhasset Neighborhood Watch Facebook group, Rosanna Massaro, collected 1,620 verified signatures from residents opposing the merger, with an additional 350 gathered by Benvenuto. Considering the other areas among the eight precincts share unfavorable views about the decision, Auriemma said the response is significant.
“When you multiply that number by eight, that’s a loud message that residents are not happy.”
The number of resources available in terms of police coverage aren’t just spread, but they are also not adequately shared, Auriemma said.
“The third and sixth precincts are unique areas,” she said. ‘‘They cover a population of 250,000. That’s the size of many cities, and you wouldn’t see one precinct for an entire city.”
The northern section of the third precinct, formerly the sixth, had three detectives, two teams of plain clothes officers, one dedicated vehicle and traffic officer, and four problem-oriented officers stationed locally in its building before the merge. Now there are none stationed in the north, except for two problem-oriented officers, Auriemma said.
However, not every official agrees that the precinct merger has resulted in less effective police coverage.
As reported earlier, Third Precinct Commander John Berry said that crime dropped 4 percent in 2015, and that the same number of patrol cars cover the northern section of the precinct as before the merger.
“We didn’t redraw lines,” Berry said in February. “The posts stayed the same as they were before.”
The reinstatement of problem-oriented police officers should also create a stronger police presence in the northern communities, Berry said.
Benvenuto said, “As a business owner in today’s society, you never know what’s going to happen. You never know what will strike at your door, and we have to be concerned as merchants as well for our safety.”
Benvenuto said he doesn’t consider himself a politician, nor does he often delve into politics, but it’s a resident’s duty to get involved.
“I just hope that legislators will come to some sort of terms and realize that Manhasset does need a local precinct active,” he said.