By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
As you may recall, the November 18th edition of “The County Executive’s Corner” focused on the need to bolster security at all county facilities. The column was written just a few days after Islamic terrorists killed 130 people in Paris in coordinated attacks on the capital city.
Here at home, we were still reeling from a spate of domestic mass shootings. On November 14th, a Texas man killed six people in a rural area south of Dallas. A few weeks earlier, Christopher Harper-Mercer opened fire on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, leaving nine people dead.
In this very column that week, I described a proposal within my 2016 Executive Budget to replace the 24 unarmed security guards currently watching county buildings with officers from the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. I explained that, while our security force is capable of providing information and directions, they are ill-equipped to handle today’s violent threats. Sadly, those threats have grown even more powerful and dangerous in the past three weeks.
On November 27th, a religious fanatic killed three and injured nine at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. And, just last week, a radicalized couple stormed a holiday party in San Bernardino, California and sprayed the husband’s coworkers with bullets. When the shooting was over, fourteen people were dead. Twelve of the fourteen victims were San Bernardino County employees.
One day later, on the night of December 3rd, the Rockland County Legislature rejected my proposal and restored 2016 funding for the county’s roster of unarmed security guards. In light of recent mass shooting incidents, this move can only be described as absurd. As a result, I will veto the Legislature’s amendment to my proposed budget when it reaches my desk.
My efforts to amp up security in county buildings are nothing new. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent bloodshed. I first noticed weaknesses in 2006 while serving in the Legislature. My safety concerns back then fell on deaf ears.
In addition, the county had commissioned two independent risk assessments, both of which revealed significant holes in our security measures. As County Executive, I vowed early on to make necessary changes. My professional security experience told me that our current system creates a significant liability exposure. My law enforcement career with the NYPD told me that our employees and visitors are vulnerable.
While tighter security is meant to deter anyone planning an ISIS-inspired San Bernardino-style attack, it’s also critical in responding to other incidents on county property, from domestic disputes and workplace violence to situations involving our Public Defender or Department of Probation.
Providing a safe and secure environment that is conducive to working and conducting business is a top priority of my administration. The time is right to bring the county’s security force up to a highly professional level. Utilizing armed, uniformed law enforcement officers to keep our employees and residents safe would align Rockland County with most other municipalities in the region. This new function falls squarely under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office, whose core mission is to protect county buildings and properties. I have no doubt that Sheriff Lou Falco can utilize his skills to manage this added responsibility. Best of all, my proposal involves the use of existing law enforcement personnel at a significant cost savings to local taxpayers of approximately $1.5 million.
In the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre, it’s natural to ask: How safe are workplaces that serve our public? Can we tighten building security? Should we conduct “active shooter” drills? Must we bolster workplace training that emphasizes employees contribute to their own security by being vigilant? The answers are simple.
What should have been equally simple was the Legislature’s approval to beef up security by way of the Sheriff’s Department.
But, alas, it was not.
While we may never eliminate risk, we can do much more to protect people. In the coming days, I pledge to continue aggressive efforts to re-design and strengthen our government, including the replacement of the Department of General Services security guards with armed Sheriff’s personnel.
Through the hard work and dedication of the men and women of local law enforcement, Rockland County continues to be a safe community in which to live and work. But, these are challenging times. Just as we regularly adjust strategies to combat cybersecurity threats, we must do the same for our “brick and mortar” facilities. In fact, protecting people, buildings or properties should be easier than hardening computer networks because structures are tangible, and people experience and interact with them directly.
Now is the time to tighten any gaps in our security systems. Safety must be a top priority. As I veto the Legislature’s budget amendment this week, I do so in the best interest of the people of Rockland.