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Lynbrook police chief comes under fire for comments on enforcing officers to wear masks

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Lynbrook Police Department Chief Brian Paladino recently caused a stir when he responded by email to a complaint that officers were not wearing face coverings, writing that he would not be a “mask Kaiser.”

On Sept. 28, Paladino responded to Jim Burns, of Long Beach, who said he had observed a patrol officer without a face covering speaking with several unmasked teenagers in an outdoor dining area on Atlantic Avenue.

Paladino wrote that 20 percent of Lynbrook officers had previously tested positive for Covid-19 and 40 percent had tested positive for antibodies, while they were “strictly following the guidelines set forth by” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I pick my battles with my employees and being a mask Kaiser with them is not one I think is worth waging at this time,” he wrote in the email, which was acquired by the Herald. “I have great people that work for me.”

On Saturday, Paladino sent the Herald a statement, saying his response stemmed from emotions running high amid a challenging, unprecedented year.

“Our village and Police Department follow all CDC and New York state guidance on Covid-19,” he wrote. “Front-line workers, in-cluding police officers, have experienced some of the most challenging times this year. In a recent email, I provided an emotional response that was out of character with how I run my department. The safety of our citizens and of our officers has always been my number one priority, which includes reminding them to wear masks when appropriate.”

Reached by phone Friday, Mayor Alan Beach said there was an increased police presence in the Atlantic Avenue dining area because some teens were cursing at patrons at eateries and blocking traffic on roads while riding their bicycles, hurting business. He added that police officers have had to confiscate bikes in the past.

On the night that led to Burns’s email, one officer approached the unmasked group to speak with them while not wearing a face covering, and Burns, who was scouting possible locations to open a restaurant, witnessed the incident and emailed Paladino.

“Why would police officers patrolling Atlantic Avenue this evening not wear face masks?” he wrote. “I witnessed one officer engage with multiple people within feet of people, including a group of 13- to 16-year-olds.”

Burns added that he had seen Lynbrook officers without masks before.

Beach said he expects officers to follow health protocols, adding that Paladino’s email was a way of defending his force. “The cops went down and one of them went over and talked to the kids and told them they can’t do this because they’re hurting the village,” the mayor said. “He didn’t have his mask on during that . . . Brian’s defending his guys. His guys are really great.”

Paladino oversees a Police Department that includes 48 officers and seven neighborhood aides who work in part- and full-time roles. In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted a state law requiring face coverings when in public places; failure to comply can lead to a $1,000 fine.

Beach said that while Paladino’s email could have been better crafted, he understood where it came from and stands by him.

“He does a great job,” the mayor said of Paladino. “He has my utmost respect, and the village supports him. The village policy is that we will follow the CDC guidelines, and all members will be wearing their masks. The safety of our residents is of the utmost importance.”