The Oyster Bay Town Board’s Dec. 10 unanimous decision to allow for bay constables and public safety officers to carry firearms is warranted, said Town Public Safety Commissioner Justin McCaffrey, who initiated the policy. And there are several reasons why the change is needed, he said.
There have been violent crimes at town parks, including one at Haypath Park on July 6 in Old Bethpage, where there was a shooting that led to a homicide. Public safety officers, who are generally active duty or retired police officers, need to be armed, McCaffrey said. And those who are non-police will need to acquire a full carry pistol permit issued by Nassau police.
Residents said they were surprised by the new policy.
“It’s not like our parks have had any incidents,” said Ron Paradiso, the president of the Oyster Bay Lions Club. “I’m always reserved for anyone to have a gun because there is an opportunity for a mistake and something could happen that shouldn’t. If a public safety officer is nervous he might use his gun.”
Reginald Butt, a Vietnam veteran and former commander of American Legion Quentin Roosevelt Post 4 is also concerned. “I’m leery of it because I don’t think that some of them [public safety officers] have enough training,” he said. “I’m worried especially because they are around kids in the park.”
Bay constables are currently armed in the towns of Hempstead, Brookhaven, Islip, Smithtown, Babylon, Huntington, Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southold, and in the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach.
McCaffrey said the bay constables in the Town of Oyster Bay will have to purchase their own department approved 9mm pistol. They need to carry firearms, he said, because their tasks have changed. As part of their involvement in homeland security, bay constables are required to stop and search boats. And nearly every boat has weapons onboard, from rifles and flare guns to knives.
Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy said he doesn’t see the threats that the town’s bay constables face. The new policy, he said, can cause the Town of Oyster Bay a lot of trouble. “I’ve never been out on the Long Island Sound and seen anything that requires anybody to shoot at anyone else,” Kennedy said. “[The town is] opening themselves up to a lot of potential liability.”
But bay constables are responding to a variety of potentially dangerous calls, McCaffrey insisted, from complaints by residents that hunters are firing weapons too close to shore to domestic disputes on the water. It’s important, he said, that the bay constables have a gun to level the playing field.
“A couple of summers ago we had a boat hijacking,” said McCaffrey, who is a retired New York City police sergeant and a former supervisor in the NYPD Gang Unit. “And drug trafficking has increased statewide on the water, although not in Oyster Bay. It’s a changing world out there.”
Bay constables have been assisting the police and federal agencies and attend terrorism exercises with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I realized just how important it is for the bay constables to carry a weapon after going out on patrol with them, seeing what they do daily and being involved with their training,” said McCaffrey. “If a bay constable needs help it is a long way off. In the street help is minutes away but not on a boat.”
McCaffrey spoke at length to the Town Board and Supervisor Joseph Saladino before the policy change. They wanted to be certain that background checks, psychological testing and training were required before a weapon was approved, and that liability was considered.
The town will be contracting Stone, McElroy and Associates, to conduct the psychological testing, the same company that the Nassau and Suffolk police departments employ. And the testing will include a written component and a one on one interview with a psychologist, McCaffrey said.
The new policy was created after being considered by the town’s legal counsel and a careful review of Use of Force policies in both counties on L.I. and other municipalities, said Brian Nevin, the town spokesman, in an email.
“To be qualified all must . . . complete firearms qualifications at Nassau and Suffolk counties law enforcement academies, re-qualify annually and attend annual training on the use of force and in de-escalation techniques in an effort to make every interaction result in a safe and calm result,” Nevin said.
Additionally, all have passed New York state and FBI criminal background and fingerprint checks, he added.
Butt said he understands the danger that bay constables could experience but remains concerned. “Hunters on the water is a bad situation,” he said. “They have more training and that could be bad. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Having two people armed won’t correct it.”
Mike Conn and Ronny Reyes contributed to this article.