Amendment to give NY corrections officers off-duty guns vetoed

Said it violates the state Taylor Law, which bars lawmakers from negotiating with county unions


By Rick Brand
Newsday

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, in a rare move, vetoed the legislative budget amendment to begin funding off-duty guns for correction officers, saying it violates the state Taylor Law, which bars lawmakers from negotiating with county unions.

Bellone also warned the "true cost" would ultimately be more than $517,000 to provide guns for all correction officers, far beyond the $115,000 expense in the budget amendment.

Bellone issued the lone budget veto after the county legislature Nov. 5 unanimously approved an amendment to provide Glock 9-mm pistols for 200 correction officers to carry off-duty. Except for some posts, most do not carry weapons in county jails to prevent the chance prisoners could take them.

After the amendment was approved, Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, said he would seek the same benefit for his members, even though officers are already authorized to carry their police weapon off-duty.

Issuing just his fourth veto in three years, Bellone said it is "not an action I take lightly," but cautioned that state law mandates only the executive is responsible for bargaining with unions and "a legislative body may not unilaterally change a term . . . even if related to the appropriation of additional funds."

Bellone added that the correction officers union had not raised the issue of arming its members during ongoing contract talks, which enter binding arbitration later this week.

If it is a "critical issue" for the union, Bellone said, "They should be willing to accede to some . . . county priorities . . . to secure this benefit."

Vito Dagnello, the correction officers union president, declined to comment Monday on the veto because of continuing negotiations. After the amendment was passed by the legislature, Dagnello had said his members needed the weapons to protect themselves from potential danger from former inmates they might face after their release.

Bellone asked lawmakers to sustain his position given that they have worked in "mutual consensus" on 3,332 resolutions, including 130 local laws. "If the legislature chooses to override this veto, you will send a strong message that benefits can be derived outside of negotiation with the executive and with no attempt to protect the taxpayer," he said.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he could not predict the outcome of an override vote expected Tuesday, but believes there will be a "reluctance to intervene" in contract talks, especially when other unions might seek the same benefit.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said he asked legislative counsel to research the legal issues, but maintained that Sheriff Vincent DeMarco supported the measure.

"I see it as something as simple as giving a carpenter a hammer, essential for the task we've given them," Kennedy said.

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