Long Island Liberals Fret Over Executive's 'Private Militia'

Glock Model 21" by Michael @ NW Lens is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman is offering more details about the "Provisional Emergency Special Deputy Sheriffs" he's hiring to help respond to emergencies on Long Island, but critics are still on the warpath over his plans, with some accusing him of creating a "private militia" that will lead to acts of vigilantism. 

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On Sunday, Blakeman sat down with CBS News New York to talk about the reserve force, which he says already has its first members in place. Rather than a private militia armed and ready to do Blakeman's bidding, the executive says the reserve force will be a helping hand to full-time officers if they're ever needed. 

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said the deputies must be over 21 years old, be U.S. citizens and Nassau County residents, undergo a full background check, take a drug test and have a valid firearm license. They would be paid $150 a day for their service, according to the plan. 

"They will have to be trained on the law and use of force," Blakeman, a Republican elected to the county's top post in 2021, told CBS News New York on Sunday. "And if I were to use them, it wouldn't be for normal police functions. It would be for protecting infrastructure like hospitals, power plants, mosques and synagogues, and things of that nature so that we could free up our police officers to do other work."

Over 100 people submitted applications for the openings after Blakeman and Nassau County Sheriff Anthony LaRocco posted an advertisement on the county’s website in March seeking candidates for "Provisional Emergency Special Deputy Sheriffs."

At least seven Nassau County residents who attended night training sessions at the Nassau Police Department’s training facility in Garden City have completed their training to become armed deputies. He said the recruits are mostly former police officers and military members. 

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Nassau County is hardly the only jurisdiction that has a reserve force of deputies or officers. You can find them in Democratic strongholds like Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, to name just a few. But some Democrats on Long Island are "deeply concerned" over Blakeman's plans, seeing them as some sort of nefarious step towards authoritarianism.  

“This is another disturbing example of our county executive veering so far out of his lane by devoting his attention on issues that don’t exist and aren’t likely to exist instead of concentrating on his job and addressing the problems the residents of Nassau County are experiencing every day," Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, a Plainview Democrat, said during a Tuesday rally opposing the move. 

The group, Concerned Citizens of New York's 3rd Congressional District, sent a letter to Nassau County's chief legal counsel, Chris Ostuni, saying it was "deeply concerned" about Blakeman's plans to deputize private citizens. 

"Many Nassau residents, worried that this action could result in vigilantism, accidents and friendly fire police deaths from in adequately, trained uncoordinated squads," Jody Kass Finkel, the group’s founder, wrote. "Residents are equally troubled by the potential for wasteful government spending as it appears, the deputies would duplicate the role of county and state police forces."

I've expressed my own concerns, but I'm not worried at all about the possibility that Blakeman is setting up his own private army. As I wrote back in March, when Blakeman first announced his proposal, it's a good idea in theory, but there should be some guardrails in place to make sure this doesn't turn into some kind of pay-to-play scheme. 

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 A Virginia sheriff is currently awaiting trial on bribery charges after prosecutors accused him of running a similar program in Culpeper County, where donors cut checks so they could become "auxiliary deputies." Former sheriff Scott Jenkins is scheduled to stand trial later this year, but two of those auxiliary deputies have already pled guilty to similar charges, including James Metcalfe; a northern Virginia business owner who says he cut the sheriff a $5,000 check in exchange for a badge. 

What kind of safeguards will be in place in Nassau County to ensure that the "provisional special sheriff's deputies" that are hired actually deserve the job? 

I don't want to be overly critical of Blakeman's initiative, but those are my initial concerns. Hopefully, as we learn more about what Blakeman envisions for these provisional deputies those concerns will be put to rest, but for the moment I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to the Nassau County executive's plan.

Most of my concerns have been put to rest, to be honest. According to the sheriff, the Provisional Emergency Special Deputy Sheriffs will not have any law enforcement powers unless the county has declared a state of emergency, so it doesn't look like this is a way for some well-connected or deep-pocketed donors to get around New York's ridiculous gun laws. Applicants must also "be trained and qualified on service weapon and complete basic training at the Academy in the NYS Penal law and Use of Force" within 45 days of their hire, so there's a substantial time commitment involved for the recruits as well. 

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From what I can tell, this doesn't appear to be much different than the reserve forces that are already in place in countless police and sheriffs' departments across the country. Whether or not it will be of real benefit to Nassau County residents remains to be seen, but the accusations that Blakeman is setting up a "private militia" that will lead to acts of vigilantism are completely unfounded. 

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