Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini announced that Suffolk County has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to further the department’s ongoing commitment to eradicating gangs from the communities it serves.
The grant is provided through Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a national initiative aimed at reducing and preventing gun and gang violence through enforcement strategies and community outreach programs for at-risk youth.
The funding will assist in covering costs associated with the police department’s enhanced presence and patrols in affected areas to deter and prevent gang activity, also known as “hot spot policing.” It will also help fund school-based and community-based programs to reduce gang recruitment and involvement, such as custom notifications, call-ins and youth conflict insertions.
These efforts are part of the Suffolk County Police Department’s ongoing, multi-pronged gang eradication strategy, launched in September 2016 with a particular focus on Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, following the murder of 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas by MS-13 gang members in Brentwood, N.Y. Seventeen of the 45 homicides that occurred in Suffolk County since January 1, 2016 are believed to be linked to MS-13.
The initiative comprises collaborative efforts to collect intelligence on gang members and share that intelligence with partnering law enforcement agencies; enhanced and targeted police presence and patrols in affected areas; and significant investments in gang prevention and intervention strategies.
Suffolk County police officers from multiple sections, including the precinct Gang Units and members of the Firearm Suppression Team (FAST) launched by Commissioner Sini in 2016 in partnership with the FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), relentlessly target and arrest gang members to suppress street crimes and further develop intelligence.
Since the launch of the initiative, the Suffolk County Police Department has made more than 265 arrests of more than 190 individual MS-13 gang members and has worked in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to detain more than 100 additional MS-13 members.
In conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, the Suffolk County Police Department also strategically selects MS-13 gang members for federal prosecution under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, a highly effective tool used to dismantle gangs. The partnership recently resulted in RICO indictments against more than 25 MS-13 members, 5 of whom were responsible for the murders of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas.
The Suffolk County Police Department partners with various Town authorities, the New York State Liquor Authority, and the United States Department of Homeland Security to conduct raids of known gang locations which has resulted in the closure of several locations.
Commissioner Sini urged the federal government to award a PSN grant to Suffolk County during a private meeting with United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and during his testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in May 2017.
“The Suffolk County Police Department and its law enforcement partners have implemented an extremely aggressive strategy to combat gang activity, reduce gun violence and eradicate MS-13 from our communities,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini said. “This grant will further those efforts. On behalf of Suffolk County, I want to thank United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Bridget M. Rohde and the Department of Justice for their continued partnership.”
“The Department of Justice today announces the foundation of our plan to reduce crime: prioritizing Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program that has been proven to work. Let me be clear – Project Safe Neighborhoods is not just one policy idea among many. This is the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy. Taking what we have learned since the program began in 2001, we have updated it and enhanced it, emphasizing the role of our U.S. Attorneys, the promise of new technologies, and above all, partnership with local communities. With these changes, I believe that this program will be more effective than ever and help us fulfill our mission to make America safer,” United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
“The Project Safe Neighborhoods grant will strengthen the Suffolk County Police Department’s 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,” Acting United States Attorney Rohde said. “This Office is committed to helping communities develop resiliency against gang recruitment so as to diminish gangs, their number and strength, as well as to continuing our prosecutive efforts directed at those who choose the wrong path and engage in gang violence.”