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Shortfall in Nassau County police detectives

Reworking the pay structure is key to increasing staff

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Working without a new contract for nearly two years the Nassau County Detectives Association is making a push for a new agreement along with the organization’s continuing campaign for the county to resolve the short staffing of detectives at the eight police department precincts.

Association President John Wighaus, a detective since 1997, said the overarching issues are the payment structure, which includes “steps” for detectives to reach top detective pay coupled with the overwhelmingly responsibilities that includes handling several cases simultaneously involving interviewing victims, interrogating suspects, answering to multiple levels of prosecutors, along with investigating, collecting, categorizing and preserving maintaining statistics and arresting suspects.

“There is so much responsibility that at the end of the day detectives don’t come back with nothing on their plate,” Wighaus said, referring to all the phone calls even off duty. “They are tied to the case and want to see the case to a successful conclusion.”

Officers do receive a $2,400 raise after being prompted to detective. But must complete all eight, 12-month steps to earn detective pay. Then detectives must complete 75 months, just over six years, of steps to earn top detective pay. This all stems from a 2007 arbitration award that lasted for five years and was extended in 2015 and 2017.

The police department is budgeted for 360 detectives, but there are 308 now on duty. Wighaus said that with the reopening of the Sixth Precinct on the North Shore and the Eighth on the eastern end of the county, the detectives are stretched even more as Third Squad detectives are handling 6th precinct cases and Second Squad detectives are working 8th Precinct cases. He said there were 460 detectives 20 years ago, and a decade ago 425.

“Getting the detective shield was the pinnacle of police work now it’s gone to be a pariah to most officers,” Wighaus said, adding that when he put in for detective every precinct typically had 20 to 30 officers doing the same.

He addressed the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee on June 4, and claims there is bipartisan support for resolving the contract dispute and ratcheting up detective staffing levels. “We would like to get something fair in collective bargaining to incentivize and retain these police officers who want to be designated detectives,” Wighaus said.

County spokeswoman Christine Geed said that when the 6th and 8th precincts were reopened “we would not be able to field detective units until we completed bargaining.” 

“The county and Detectives Association are working towards a positive solution for this detective shortage,” she said. “Unfortunately, this shortage is a result of a prior contract that was negotiated by the previous administration which leaves police officers with better salaries than detectives. As a result, detective promotions have been declined.” Geed added that Nassau “is experiencing historic low crime rates.”

County Legislators Denise Ford and Howard Kopel, who represent the Five Towns are both in favor of getting the problem resolved as soon as possible. Kopel noted that the contract’s imbalance lies with what he called the “oddly structured” compensation package that offers no incentive for police officers to seek out a promotion to detective.

“It’s not that complicated,” Kopel said, “it’s a matter of spending the additional dollars on detectives and it’s warranted. There are not that many detectives, just go ahead and do it.”

Ford said the compensation structure should have been resolved before contract negotiations got under way. “I think they should have expedited negotiations,” she said. We need to get officer on the job with experience and restore it to the job it used to be.”