The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday night approved a measure that opens the doors for New York State to transfer all three-dozen Suffolk County Parks police officers to the Suffolk County Police Department, a move that officials said would save the county $13.4 million over the next four years.
The legislature unanimously voted in favor of the Home Rule message, which paves the way for the county to effectively dissolve the entire parks police department whose policing duties would be replaced by part-time and seasonal park rangers and park security guards.
But in order for the reclassification to be complete, the New York State Legislature would have to approve mirror bills in the state Senate and Assembly, which would likely have to wait until after state budget negations finish this month, according to a state source. The budget deadline is April 1.
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) is sponsoring the bill in the state Senate and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) in the state Assembly.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Wednesday applauded passage of the bill and called on state lawmakers to push the bill forward.
— Steve Bellone (@SteveBellone) March 19, 2014
The county has touted the transfer as a cost-effective measure that saves on overtime costs and creates more flexibility by hiring part-time or seasonal park rangers to police county parks throughout the calendar year, especially during busy summer months.
There are currently 36 parks police officers, including lieutenants and sergeants.
During Tuesday’s meeting, which went late into the night, some Suffolk lawmakers voiced concerns regarding policing and how the transfer would impact the East End, which relies mostly on local town police departments.
The transfer shouldn’t put a strain on municipal police officers, officials said, because the county would be allowed to hire part-time rangers to beef up patrols in certain parks and beaches depending on the need.
Additionally, officials said, it’s unlikely public safety would be adversely affected because rangers have the same arresting authority as current parks police officers.