Will armed civilian deputies be of any help to Nassau County?


Nearly 100 people stood on the steps of the Nassau County legislature building in Mineola on Monday afternoon, clutching signs reading, “Blakeman is a liar! Armed militants are not the answer” and “Eclipse Blakeman’s militia”’ while chanting “no militia, no way.”

The protest came on the heels of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman jumpstarting a program allowing civilians with gun permits — especially retired law enforcement or military veterans — to step forward as provisional special deputy sheriffs during times of crisis.

The program, Blakeman said, aims to bolster emergency response capabilities within the county. Applicants are required to be U.S. citizens between 21 and 72 who live in the county, and possess a pistol license. Additionally, they must consent to thorough background checks, random drug testing, and provide medical certification of fitness for duty.

The position offers a daily stipend of $150 when activated during declared emergencies, but these special deputies would have no other policing authority outside of such circumstances.

Laura Burns, a Rockville Centre resident and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, opposes Blakeman’s program, citing concerns about escalating gun violence and the lack of necessity for additional firearms in Nassau County, which boasts one of the lowest gun death rates in the country.

She expresses trust in the well-trained Nassau County Police Department, and questions the rationale behind distrusting existing law enforcement agencies.
“We are trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have guns,” Burns said. “We understand that gun violence increases with the more people who are carrying guns. We think it’s a reckless idea to put more guns in the hands of more untrained people on the streets.”

Allison Dzikowski of Bellmore suggests that existing county police training is more reliable than expecting civilians to effectively respond to heightened stressful situations.

“We should trust our police department to do their jobs that they’re trained for,” she said. “They go through training. They go through (the) academy. They are trained to deal with highly stressful situations. That’s not something that we can guarantee that they’ll be able to act under a heightened, stressful situation.”
Citing New York State County Law 655 — which grants sheriffs the authority to deputize additional personnel for emergency situations — Blakeman justifies the initiative to safeguard life and property during crises. Special deputy sheriffs, while not typically responding to 911 calls, assume full police authority when activated, and are tasked with executing warrants, serving court orders, and conducting other law enforcement duties.

Talking to reporters last week at the county’s Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center, Blakeman said he would require these special deputies to have a firearms license and undergo background and mental health checks. The county will provide basic police training.

Blakeman added he will call up these deputies in only the most extreme situation, like a natural disaster — with the mission being not to police, but to guard hospitals and other infrastructure to free up sworn county police officers.
“I didn’t want to find myself in a circumstance where we’d have an emergency in a very significant event like Superstorm Sandy, and scramble to get volunteers,” Blakeman said. “All we’re doing here is pre-training, and vetting those individuals, and creating a database and a list.”

However, the rollout of this program has sparked controversy, with county legislators like Delia DeRiggi-Whitton expressing reservations, claiming she and other officials were not adequately informed of the initiative. The Democrat also says she feels confident the Nassau County Police Department can handle any job — and if they can’t, then Blakeman should hire more police officers.

 “He hasn’t been transparent,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “He never told us if there was going to be any training. In fact, that was never part of the ad, which was the first we heard of this.”

This is something the county executive should have brought to local lawmakers, she said.

“The county would be on the hook for anything that goes wrong,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “We will be responsible financially. So, you know, that could be a lot of money, and then it’s taxpayer money that would pay for anything that went wrong with the deputy.”

Citing an email she said she received from a Jewish resident in Massapequa, DeRiggi-Whitton comparing Blakeman’s call for special deputies to the paramilitary wing of the early Nazi Party, the lawmaker told another news outlet that the proposal is creating “a lot of anxiety.”

“It reminds them not only of the Wild West, but of times in Europe with uncertainty,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “There was something called the Brownshirts, which was basically having civilians suddenly become part of law enforcement without the training.”

More formally called the Sturmabteilung, this group was founded in 1921 and led attacks against Jewish people and other minority groups and businesses in Germany.

Making such a comparison outraged Blakeman, who called on DeRiggi-Whitton to resign, citing the 100 people who have applied for the deputy program so far are veterans and first responders who already have training in weapon use.
“Equating these men and women who would be willing to devote their time to protecting our county — who have prior experience in law enforcement and the military — we’re calling them ‘Brownshirts,’” Blakeman said. “This is not only a personal insult to me, as a Jew, but it is a personal insult on humanity, and to those men and women, civic minded individuals who stepped up and said they would serve in an emergency.”

Supporters of the program — like Jeff Weissman, a former FBI agent — said he found DeRiggi-Whitton’s comparison “deeply disturbing.”
“The county executive, from the point of view of those of us who live here, is trying every day to provide the maximum extent of protection for our citizens.” Weissman said. “He’s allowing the police to be freed up in, God forbid, a county emergency where these deputies would be able to perform other tasks for them.”
DeRiggi-Whitton said she would not resign. In a phone call to the Herald, she expressed concern with transparency over training deputies, and said Democrats in the legislature proposed hiring 100 new police officers instead — but that Republicans voted that down.

“I still have a fundamental problem with this county executive being able to declare an emergency and then summon these people to go wherever he wants,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s not a good fit and not a good direction for where we should be with Nassau County.”