Nassau County officials announced Wednesday plans to build a new $40 million police academy at Nassau Community College four years after affiliates of the nonprofit group helping fund its construction were linked to a burglary cover-up.
The Center for Training and Intelligence, as the planned facility is called, would replace the current academy in the retrofitted, half-century-old Hawthorne Elementary School in Massapequa Park that the department rents for $700,000 annually. Officials said they’ll pay for the project with a combination of $10 million in taxpayer funding, $25 million in asset forfeiture funds—money seized from suspects during investigations—and $5 million donated by the nonprofit Nassau County Police Department Foundation. Three ex-Nassau police commanders were convicted of quashing burglary charges for the son of a donor to that nonprofit, including one ex-cop who appealed.
“Instead of putting capital improvements in a leased space that would be very hard to retrofit, to take advantage of today’s technologies, we’re moving ahead,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told reporters during a press conference while flanked by legislators, police brass and members of the nonprofit.
The 120,000-square foot facility planned for East Garden City would be the first of its kind for the department’s 80-year history and is slated to debut in two years. It would train new recruits as well as current members in addition to housing the department’s intelligence unit and contain mock “tactical villages,” where police can conduct simulated drug raids and hostage situations. It would be a big step up from the academy as it stands now, police said.
“Our current facility, as built and designed, was a grammar school, not a police academy,” said Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, who noted that the building is ill-equipped for its current function. “There are significant differences.”
Asked if Nassau—which County Comptroller George Maragos projected is facing a $52-million deficit next year—can afford to spend millions on the new venture, Mangano said the academy was worth the investment.
“You really can’t measure it from the dollars of the building,” Mangano said. “It’s what goes on in that building, that’s our investment—that training, that national exposure, that intelligence-led policing model.
“We are very, very mindful of the deficiencies here in our county,” he added. “We strive for efficiency…we do not sacrifice quality of life…we do not sacrifice the investment in our police department.”
Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James Carver told the Press he’s “in favor of a more modernized facility that will assist in training our police officers, both the recruits that are coming on the job, and providing training for active members.” But, he’d also like to see the county update some of its antiquated precincts, and hire additional officers, given recent retirements, he said. “Building a police academy without hiring makes no sense,” he said.
The county needs to cut through plenty of red tape before shovel hits dirt, which could happen as early as this fall, officials said. The county submitted a Request for Proposal seeking contractors to build the facility earlier this month with a deadline of Feb. 18. And federal authorities must provide written approval for the county to use asset forfeiture dollars on the project.
“We are very confident that we’ll receive that approval,” Krumpter said, adding that the department could get the go ahead in the next couple of months.
The NCPD Foundation was founded in 2008 by former Nassau police commissioner Lawrence Mulvey specifically to raise money to build the new police academy. In statements made at a June 2010 Long Island Real Estate Group event, Mulvey told attendees that the nonprofit hoped to raise $25 million in two years to build a future police academy, then estimated to cost $48 million for a 75,000-square foot facility, according to the New York Real Estate Journal. The foundation ultimately raised one fifth of that goal.
Eric Blumencranz, chairman of the NCPD Foundation, said Mulvey, who retired in 2011, “deserves substantial credit” for his contribution in having the foundation’s dream of a new academy realized. As for the donation, Blumencranz said: “I don’t think we ever committed to $25 million in fundraising, but we committed to raising significant amount of funds.” The $25 million figure likely included a combination of fundraising and asset forfeiture dollars, he said.
“The fundraising for this project isn’t over, it’s still in the beginning stages,” Blumencranz explained, adding that he has commitments from several donors who first wanted to see shovels on the ground. Additional donations could come from naming certain academy buildings after donors, he said.
The foundation came under scrutiny in 2012 when three Nassau police commanders were charged with quashing the investigation of a 2009 burglary committed by then-police-intern Zachary Parker, of Merrick, who’s father, Gary, donated to and volunteered for the nonprofit.
The charges stemmed from a Press expose into the foundation and the covered-up burglary. All three commanders left the department following their arrest and the burglar was convicted after prosecutors picked up the case. Then-Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice cleared the police foundation of wrongdoing, although Gary Parker was named in court as an un-indicted co-conspirator. He resigned from the group.
In February 2013, a jury convicted William Flanagan, an ex-deputy Nassau County police commissioner, of conspiracy and official misconduct, but he was acquitted of receiving reward for official misconduct. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, but execution of that sentence was stayed pending the outcome of his appeal.
John Hunter, the former deputy chief patrol, and ex-Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe later pleaded guilty to misconduct. They were sentenced to probation and community service.
Since the scandal, the foundation has donated funds to help authorities identify residents with cognitive disorders who go missing, donated police equipment and contributed reward money in high-profile cases, such as the recent homicide of a gas station attendant in Jericho.
The scandal was not of concern this week when officials thanked each other for bringing the academy project to fruition. The foundation and the department are now hoping to put it all behind them and finally break ground on their original plan.
“It’s a very exciting time in the department,” Krumpter said, speaking about the academy. “It’s a long time coming.”
—With Timothy Bolger