About 5,000 Nassau and Suffolk county police officers lead the way in maintaining peace, law and order, and keeping neighborhoods safe for nearly 3 million residents of Long Island.
While 2020 has disrupted the lives of most Long Islanders, times have rarely been more difficult for members of law enforcement. When residents were urged to shelter in place as the coronavirus pandemic peaked in New York State, Nassau and Suffolk cops were on the front line, supporting fellow first responders. Many law enforcement officers contracted COVID-19 and unknowingly brought the virus home to their family — yet continued to serve and protect despite it all.
“The men and women in law enforcement prioritized the safety of all over their own safety,” said James McDermott, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the department’s rank-and-file patrol officers. “The invisible enemy, which still has not let up, was beaten back thanks in part to all of the front-line workers, especially the police.”
When the peak passed, officers were lauded as heroes.
“The support lifted us up in a very difficult time,” said Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association. “As the rest of the country sheltered in place during this global pandemic, our members answered the call — this should never, ever be forgotten by our community.”
But weeks later, after a Minneapolis police officer allegedly murdered George Floyd, demands for racial justice reforms triggered what some termed a war on police.
“Catalyzed by the actions of a few law enforcement officers in Minneapolis, Suffolk and Nassau have become the subject of anti-police hate, targeting, harassment, and interference from demonstrations throughout the county,” said DiGerolamo. “Rhetoric has spilled from politicians and pundits calling to ‘defund’ and, in some cases, ‘abolish’ the police, leading to hasty action on police reforms that put officers and their families at risk.”
All the while, police are still tasked with their normal duties, which are compounded by the complexities of the persisting pandemic. But McDermott and DiGerolamo have been speaking out on behalf of law enforcement. In a tumultuous time for law enforcement, this is no easy task.
James McDermott is a second generation civil servant, the son of a New York City firefighter, and a Wantagh native. An experienced police officer with more than three decades on the force, Officer McDermott began his career in law enforcement as many police officers on LI did, in the New York City Police Department.
McDermott was assigned to patrol East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant for the first three years of his career, when he made the difficult decision to join the Nassau County Police Department. In 1987, he began his career in Nassau’s 5th Precinct in the southwestern corner of the county.
In the 5th Precinct, McDermott was awarded the precinct’s coveted “Cop of the Month” three times as well as several commendations for outstanding community outreach, building bridges, and developing trust between the communities and the police force.
Since he took on the role of president of the Nassau PBA in 2017, he has been featured in national, regional, and local publications to share his insight on police matters, utilizing his extensive knowledge from his time in uniform. In his role, he maintains constant dialogue with his members, the community, and elected officials to advocate for the interest of cops. But the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with civil unrest and anti-police sentiment, however, brought law enforcement and the Nassau PBA into uncharted territories, with unique and unforeseen challenges, according to McDermott.
“The coronavirus pandemic brought the front line of the battle against the virus into our living rooms,” he said. “Cops did not know if they were going to get it or spread it to their families. This weighs heavy on the minds of police officers and brings a whole new meaning to ‘bringing work home with you.’”
“The anti-police rhetoric being spread by many throughout our community is misguided to say the least,” he continued, adding that “after putting the health of themselves and their families on the line, it is cops who should be commended, not condemned.”
He looks to the Big Apple as a worst case scenario.
“When you look west, you see New York City and a spike in crime that is due, in large part, to Albany’s reckless policies of releasing criminals back into our communities,” he said. “Violent crime is up significantly, shootings are up 177 percent, homicides are up 50 percent, and Nassau County is right in their backyard. Now, of all times, is not the time to be calling for anything other than full-fledged support for our cops and emergency services, which is the thin blue line preventing the spread of this crime wave to Nassau and Long Island.”
Noel DiGerolamo, like McDermott, also started his career in the NYPD, and moved to the Suffolk County Police Department nearly a quarter century ago.
Noel was born in Suffolk and has spent most of his life living and working in New York. In 1990, he served with the 800th Military Police Brigade during the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia. Upon his return, Noel joined the NYPD in 1992 before entering the Suffolk County Police Department in 1995. In 1999, he was elected to serve as a union delegate before being elected to the Board of Governors as the 1st Precinct Trustee in November 2000. He was elected vice president and then assumed the role of president in 2012, after the retirement of his predecessor.
DiGerolamo represents more than 2,500 active duty police officers in the county, and is known as a powerful force in policymaking and politics on the Island. DiGerolamo was named to the Long Island Press Power List in 2019, and is a vocal proponent of pro-law enforcement and pro-public safety policies that put law and order first.
“There has been much, extremely rushed, pro-crime and pro-criminal legislation passed in Albany in the past two years,” said DiGerolamo. “Regardless of their political affiliation, dozens of state assembly members and senators from Long Island — elected by Long Island residents — were radicalized by the unhinged left. Now, with the repeal of our civil rights law, known as 50-a, disastrous bail reform which releases criminals back into our community to again commit crime, and this defund-the-police movement, police officers are under attack, plain and simple.”
Noel had a plea for Long Island’s law-abiding citizens: “Call your legislators, your state officials and your members of Congress and tell them stop the war on police.”
DiGerolamo often works both behind the scenes, and through public channels, to ensure the best for his members and the communities they serve.
“A strong police force is good for the public and bad for criminals,” continued DiGerolamo. “Anti-police policies not only hurt our officers and inhibit them from doing their jobs, but also allow crime to fester, violence to rise, and law and order to be lost.”