Here’s a chilling statistic: 294 known mass shootings have occurred this year in the United States. On June 17th, nine people were gunned down while taking part in an evening Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. On July 16th, a gunman opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing five service members at a Chattanooga, Tennessee recruiting center. On October first, another madman shot up Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, leaving nine dead, ages 18 to 67.
The carnage didn’t start this year. Think of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the 2011 Arizona massacre involving Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. I believe the turning point was December 14, 2012, when 20 children and six teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Now, in addition to dealing with challenging domestic issues like tougher gun laws, background checks and mental illness, we’re facing a renewed terrorist threat from overseas. The cold-blooded slaughter of 129 innocents last Friday in Paris is a chilling reminder that we must remain vigilant, both internationally and in our own neighborhoods.
Each of these massacres involved different settings, different victims and different gunmen. But, any of them could have happened in Rockland County.
It goes without saying that our law enforcement agencies in Rockland County are working overtime to keep us safe. Officers on patrol from Tappan to Tomkins Cove routinely check for threats to churches, synagogues, shopping centers and train tracks. In Clarkstown, police officers make regular and random visits to all public schools.
What concerns me is the frightening lack of security at our own county offices. Each day, scores of residents visit our properties to get flu shots, pay tax bills and renew passports. But, unlike government buildings in neighboring Westchester and Bergen counties, we are not equipped to screen visitors with x-ray machines or Magnetometers. While our unarmed security force is capable of providing information and directions, they are ill-equipped to handle today’s violent threats. Our residents – and, our employees – are vulnerable.
As part of my administration’s efforts to re-design and strengthen our government, my proposed Budget for 2016 calls for the replacement of the Department of General Services security guards with patrol officers from the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office. This function will fall under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff, whose core mission is to protect county buildings and properties.
This move will bring the County’s security force up to a highly professional level by utilizing armed, uniformed members of the Sheriff’s Office to keep our workforce – and, our residents – safe. This approach will align Rockland with most other municipalities in the region.
My professional security experience tells me that our current system creates a significant liability exposure. My law enforcement career with the NYPD tells me this is the right thing to do. And, now more than ever, I know our people will support it. Best of all, we plan to use existing taxpayer resources – meaning more public safety now, and less public expense later. I have the utmost faith that Sheriff Lou Falco can utilize his skills to handle this added responsibility.
A note to opponents of this plan: My administration is not looking to take cops off the streets. With a variety of different units within the Sheriff’s Office, this move toward armed deputies in county buildings can easily be accomplished with existing staffing levels. And, it should be noted that all Legislative hearings held at the Allison-Parris Building in New City currently involve a Sheriff’s officer stationed in the lobby. Shouldn’t this same level of protection be offered to ALL county employees and visitors?
Thanks to our dedicated and highly-skilled law enforcement community and a vigilant population, I know Rockland County is extremely safe. However, with the threat of extremists inspired by the Islamic State, as well as the homegrown terrorist next door (think Newtown, the Boston Marathon and Times Square bombings), we must tighten any gaps in our security, including at our county-run facilities. Our residents and our employees deserve nothing less. I look forward to the support of Sheriff Falco and the Legislature as we work together to make Rockland County safer than ever.