Suffolk PBA seeks gun benefit proposed for correction officers

Head of police union says if county buys off-duty guns for COs, he wants the same for cops

By Rick Brand

BOHEMIA, NY — The head of Suffolk's largest police union says if the county buys off-duty guns for correction officers he wants the same for his members.

Noel DeGerolamo, Police Benevolent Association president, said he will seek to reopen contract negotiations if a legislative budget amendment to fund pistols for off-duty correction officers passes.

"If an additional benefit is being given to another law enforcement union, I would execute my right under the contract to get the same benefit for my members," DeGerolamo said.

DeGerolamo said he communicated his intentions to the county executive's office after the county legislature last week unanimously approved a last-minute amendment to spend $115,000 for 200 Glock 9-mm semiautomatic pistols for correction officers for off-duty use. Most correction officers do not carry weapons inside the jail, to prevent prisoners from disarming them.

Correction officers do receive mandatory annual firearms training and are permitted to carry their own weapons while off duty, but must buy them themselves. All county police officers are issued handguns and can carry them off duty.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration is "extremely concerned" about the potential fiscal impact and the lack of vetting over a major policy change. He warned that there's a "very strong chance" that County Executive Steve Bellone, who rarely issues budget vetoes, will veto the amendment. Schneider said the PBA should have raised the issue in ongoing talks on a new contract, expired since 2011. Binding arbitration starts Wednesday.

The correction officers union lobbied for the funding, claiming that many members face potential danger outside the jail from former inmates who have been released.

While Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco did not include money in the budget for such weapons, he says he supports the off-duty firearms.

"They are locked in with some pretty bad people, and when they get out they remember," DeMarco said.

Vito Dagnello, the correction officers union president, estimated there are about a dozen incidents a year in which correction personnel face issues with former inmates.

"It's part of what is needed to do the job properly," Dagnello said of off-duty firearms.

"I know the county executive grew up with a father and an uncle who were corrections officers so I'm sure he understands the issues here at hand."

Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the GOP minority leader, said Bellone will have trouble sustaining a veto because of DeMarco's support. "If the chief elected law enforcement official has identified this as a cause for concern, I could care less about timing," Kennedy said. "Safety is paramount and trumps all else."

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