By Janee Law
The Suffolk County Police Department has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to help combat gang violence.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini said an aggressive gang eradication strategy was launched a year ago. It has resulted in more than 300 MS-13-related arrests and reduced crime to historic levels, according to Sini.
“More work needs to be done, however,” Sini added. “That’s why I asked the United States Attorney General for this grant that will be used to further protect our communities from gangs, including in the Town of Huntington.”
The Suffolk police initiative began September 2016 in the wake of the murders of 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, by MS-13 gang members in Brentwood.
Of the 45 homicides in Suffolk since January 2016, 17 of them have been linked to MS-13, according to information provided by police.
In an Aug. 24 interview with Long Islander News, Sini confirmed that the fatal stabbing of Estiven Abrego Gomez, 18, whose body was discovered in Greenlawn Memorial Park last year, was “gang related.”
Darryl St. George, a member of the Greenlawn Civic Association and history teacher at Northport High School, said he was president of the association when he learned the news of the murder and that he was pleased to hear that steps are being taken to fund gang prevention.
“Personally, I feel very strongly that this issue — like the drug issue — is not something that we’re going to arrest our way out of, so any opportunity to invest in prevention I think is very important and should be taken advantage of,” St. George, 35, of Centerport, said. “As a teacher, I see the need for that so I’m glad they’re going to be putting some money aside for prevention.”
This past July, a meeting discussing anti-gang strategies was held between Sini, Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and members of the town board. It was called by Councilwoman Tracey Edwards in response to community concerns within the Greenlawn and Huntington Station areas.
In a statement emailed Tuesday, Edwards said the newly-secured federal funding will help “implement some of the ideas that emanated from that meeting,” including engaging youths to discourage them from joining gangs, whether it be through schools or social service programs offered by the county and the town.
Petrone said tackling the problem requires a collaborative effort between law enforcement, social service and youth programs.
“This funding will enable us to move ahead at full speed toward making a dent in the effects gangs and violent crime have had on the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods,” he added.
The federal funding is coming through Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative aimed at preventing gun and gang violence through enforcement strategies and community outreach programs for at-risk youth, according to Suffolk police. Funding will also be used to establish targeted police patrols and mentoring, along with truancy programs to provide an alternative to gangs, according to police.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York Bridget Rohde said in a statement that the grant will strengthen the Suffolk police efforts to identify, “arrest and prosecute those offenders responsible for doing the most harm in communities plagued by gang-related violence, as well as support prevention programs for youths who are at risk for gang recruitment.”