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New York county executive plans to ‘deputize’ select gun owners

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(The Center Square) — A New York county executive plans to “deputize” legal gun owners to help law enforcement officers during emergencies, but the move is facing pushback from critics who say it will lead to acts of vigilantism.

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.

Democrats and good government groups have blasted the plan, accusing Blakeman of creating a “private militia” that will lead to acts of vigilantism and jeopardize public safety in the Long Island county.

“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.”

She said the public “has a right to understand the details of this unprecedented action, and its impact on our neighborhoods, safety, race, relations, taxes, etc.”

“How will these deputized private citizens be identified? Will they be issued marked law-enforcement vehicles at the taxpayers expense?,” she asked. “Will they be issued standard sidearms and ammunition, or will they be using their own weapons? Do they have badges or clear identification of their authority from the county?”

Nassau County resident Sabine Margolis has started a change.org petition calling Blakeman to “immediately cease and desist creation of the unnecessary and dangerous militia.” As of Monday, more than 2,500 people had signed the petition.

“This proposed militia is unnecessary and dangerous,” Margolis said in a statement. “Deputizing gun owning private citizens for undefined situations Blakeman deems as emergencies, could result in vigilantism, friendly fire police deaths from untrained, uncoordinated squads; and pits neighbor against neighbor.”