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Gun Violence

Youth coalition pushes for ‘wave of orange,’ support for politicians in favor of more regulation this November

More than 600 people gathered together loudly chanting, “Enough is enough,” and calling for measures to help bring an end to gun violence in schools at a Huntington Station park this past weekend.

Members of Students against Gun Violence LI, a student-led coalition calling for stricter gun control measures, were joined by parents, Huntington area residents and community members in a rally July 29 at Breezy Park. This event aimed to build on the momentum gathered in the March 24 marches in response to the February Parkland, Florida, school shooting, encouraging young adults to voice their opinions on gun control issues at the polls this November.

“America just loves its guns more than its people and if that’s not f****d up, I don’t know what is,” said Lucy
Peters tearfully, as the niece of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, who was killed in the Parkland shooting. “We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

– Lucy Peters

Orange has been adopted as the color worn and displayed by those protesting stalled gun control measures.

Peters stood alongside relatives of other Parkland shooting victims: Commack resident Paul Guttenberg whose niece, Jaime, a student, was killed, and Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, in calling for stricter gun control measures.

“On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old was not mature or trustworthy enough to handle a beer but was mature and trustworthy enough to handle a weapon of war, an AR-15 assault rifle,” Beigel Schulman said, in questioning gun control laws. “In what world does that make sense?”

The mother of the 35-year-old Parkland shooting victim called out Long Island politicians who have offered their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings but have not voted in support of gun control legislation, specifically naming U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford). Beige Schulman said in the wake of Scott’s death, she had chosen to make gun control reform her life’s mission and encourages others to take action.

People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’ My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

– Linda Beigel Schulman

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” she said. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote. Then make sure to tell at least two more people to get out and vote.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who co-sponsored the Huntington rally, stressed the importance of high school and college students continuing to voice their opinions on national issues by registering to vote and holding politicians accountable for their viewpoints in the upcoming
midterm elections.

“We need young people to continue to keep a youth movement going in this country to focus on this issue of gun violence,” Suozzi said. “This is a unique time in history. The adults have failed and we need young people to keep this going.”

Huntington resident Owen Toomey, who has been actively involved in March for Our Lives Long Island, stressed that the movement has defined five major legislative goals that it is fighting for. First on that list is universal background checks for gun purchasers.

I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations.”

– Gia Yetikyel

Other goals of the movement include upgrading and digitalizing the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives registry; a ban on the sale of high-capacity gun magazines and semi-automatic assault rifles, and getting Congress to approve funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research and study gun violence.

“When people ask what you are rallying for, tell them our goals,” Toomey said. “Remind them we aren’t banning guns, remind them we aren’t taking their guns, remind them we aren’t taking away their sport or self-defense — we are just making it harder for someone to kill 15 people in the span of six minutes.”

Gia Yetikyel, of New Hyde Park, recalled how terrified she was 17 years old and her high school experienced an incident that required a lockdown. While crouching in the corner of the classroom, she reported sending out text messages to her mother to ask about a younger brother’s safety, sending messages to beloved family and friends all while making a list of goals she had yet to accomplish.

I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right.”

– Avalon Fenster

“I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations,” she said.

Yetikyel said she still suffers effects from that day and, as such, fights for stricter gun control measures.

“We send out condolences to the families of the dead, but I’m still sending them to the living for having to fight this battle that shouldn’t even exist,” she said.

March for Our Lives Long Island co-founder Avalon Fenster, of Dix Hills, announced that she will be taking her pledge to fight for gun control legislation to the national level. She’s been invited to join the “Road to Change” national March for Our Lives Tour as a representative for Long Island alongside Parkland survivors Emma González and David Hogg. The tour stopped in Greensboro, North Carolina, from July 31 to Aug. 2 to rally for gun control while showing active opposition to the National Rifle Association.

“I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right,” Fenster promised those gathered. “We will resist. We will register, and we will bring justice.”

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

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There is no denying the Florida school shooting has reignited a national discussion on appropriate firearm regulations and mental health issues. Amid the uproar, students are organizing in attempt to make their voices heard — and we firmly believe they deserve to be at the forefront of this conversation.

The Women’s March Youth EMPOWER has put out the call for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to participate in a national school walkout Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. The event calls for students to walk outside of their school building for 17 minutes, one minute for each of victims killed in Parkland, in a unified effort to show students demand action from Congress in passing federal gun regulations.

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, whose niece Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, voiced support for the student walkout.

“It keeps the issue of how high school students feel about gun violence in the news, and will also send the message that our children’s voices do count,” he said. “And the tone-deaf GOP politicians in Congress will be forced to listen to how they feel.”

The reaction of Long Island’s school districts to the walkout wildly varies and, in some cases, is disappointing. We applaud Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum for sitting down with student organizers in his district to discuss plans and ensure safety.

If the point of education is to prepare our children for life, and to become civic-minded adults, Baum’s action should serve as an example for other districts.

Brenden Cusack, principal at Huntington High School, has used the walkout as an opportunity to arrange a March 13 forum where students, teachers and the community can engage in respectful dialogue on mass shootings.

It is disappointing that other districts like Rocky Point have issued warnings that administrative action will be taken in response to any student participating in the walkout. The event is an effort to cry out for attention, where the district’s planned moment of silence is just that, silence, and a letter-writing campaign is too easily ignored. This decision by school administrators strangles students’ voices, making someone think twice before expressing an opinion.

Worse are those school officials who have decided to bury their heads in the sand and not publicly address the walkout. Elwood and Harborfields have not yet issued public statements regarding how their districts will handle the event. This leaves both students and parents with numerous unanswered questions. With a little less than a week until walkout day, we strongly encourage school officials to reconsider an open and honest dialogue.

The first step to solving a problem starts with discussion of the issues. Students have every right to be heard, for it’s their safety at risk.

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An assault rifle, the weapon of choice in many mass shootings, including the Feb. 14 massacre at a Florida high school. Stock photo

By Marci Lobel

Our nation is reeling from another school shooting involving a perpetrator who was psychologically disturbed. As we consider ways to prevent such tragedies from recurring, it is important to focus on what is known about gun violence. Only by understanding these facts can we develop strategies that are most likely to be effective.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology at SBU. Photo from Marci Lobel

First, the majority of gun violence is committed by people without mental illness. This is well documented by public health experts. A person with mental illness is much less likely than a person without a diagnosable mental illness to commit an act of gun violence. In fact, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence. Inaccurate claims equating mental illness with gun violence promote stigma and misunderstanding about mentally ill people and may make it less likely that they will reach out to seek help.

Second, mass shootings are not as common as other acts of gun violence. Mass shootings in schools or elsewhere — churches, movie theaters, congressional softball games, music concerts — understandably receive a lot of attention because these tragedies are exceptionally horrifying, especially when children are victims. Nevertheless, the majority of deaths and unintended injuries by guns are not through mass shootings. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gun violence on average, according to the key gun violence statistics page on www.bradycampaign.org.

Third, owning a gun or having one accessible puts you at risk of being killed by it. According to research published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths are more numerous among gun owners and others in their household, especially children and women, than among people who don’t own guns. Research also shows that states with higher gun ownership have higher gun homicide rates, even after controlling for other predictors such as poverty and alcohol consumption, and states with gun control laws have fewer gun deaths. Additionally, numerous studies comparing developed countries find that the number of guns per capita is a strong, independent predictor of the number of gun deaths in that country.

“Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

— Leonard Berkowitz

Fourth, the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed the constitutional legitimacy of gun restrictions. In 2008, in delivering the opinion of the court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller [a previous court case] said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

Fifth, merely being in the presence of a gun increases aggression. This phenomenon, “the weapons effect,” is well demonstrated by social psychology research, which also finds that people recognize and react to guns very quickly. “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well,” wrote Leonard Berkowitz in a 1967 study with Anthony LePage. “The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

To truly protect our children, our families, our communities and our nation, we must adopt measures that are consistent with what is known about gun violence. The findings described above suggest that improving mental health outreach and treatment, while important in and of itself, will not solve the much larger problem of gun violence in American society. Stationing armed guards in our schools is not a solution — this endangers our children, teachers and those who work in schools because of the weapons effect described above. And even well-trained professionals are known to make errors in high-pressure situations. As to the idea of arming teachers, there are many more serious flaws with that idea than can be listed here. Furthermore, addressing mass shootings in our schools does nothing to eliminate the 93 gun deaths that occur day in and day out in this country.

Can we enact sensible gun policies? The Supreme Court has ruled that some gun restrictions are constitutional, and evidence indicates that gun control reduces gun deaths, even though it doesn’t completely eliminate them. The vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, support sensible gun policies. So what are we waiting for? We’re waiting for our political leaders to act. Demand action from your elected officials. Make phone calls, send letters, march, protest and vote. Get involved with organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. Demand action before another 93 people die tomorrow.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology and the director of the program in social and health psychology at Stony Brook University.

Park rangers would monitor Huntington Station parks to give a greater sense of police presence to the area. Stock photo

After a slew of violent incidents in Huntington Station, town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) has proposed using park rangers to help monitor the area and improve security.

In the past two months, Suffolk County Police Department has publicly reported two dead bodies found in Huntington and three shootings in the area. Residents have asked officials at town board meetings for resolutions to the safety issue.

According to town spokesman A.J. Carter, the town plans to hire three to four park rangers, who would be recently retired or active but off-duty policemen and have the same powers as peace officers.

Although their jurisdiction specifically would be town parks, Carter said the park rangers would be allowed to intervene if they see activity on the roads or other areas outside the parks.

Huntington Station borders the Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve, where the body of a young woman was found in 2013, and includes the following parks within the neighborhood: Gateway Park on New York Avenue at Lowndes Avenue; Manor Field Park on East 5th Street; Depot Road Park; and Fair Meadows Park on East Pulaski Road and Park Avenue.

According to New York State criminal procedure law, peace officers can make warrantless arrests, use physical force to make an arrest or prevent an escape, carry out warrantless searches with probable cause and issue appearance tickets, among other powers. They can also carry firearms and take away weapons from people who do not have the proper licenses to carry.

All peace officers in New York need to go through a special training program.

Carter said Petrone has spent months researching the idea.

Many other towns on Long Island use systems like this, including Smithtown, which has a park ranger division comprised of “law enforcement personnel” acting as peace officers in town-owned facilities to “enforce town codes, parks rules and regulations, as well as state and federal laws,” according to Smithtown’s website.

Smithtown park rangers work in conjunction with Suffolk police, and Carter said Huntington plans to do the same. Duties for Smithtown rangers include preserving town property, deterring crime, arresting offenders and assisting in searches for missing persons.

“It’s another presence in the community with the ability to make arrests,” Carter said in a phone interview.

The town spokesman also said the money to hire peace officers would be taken from the part of the budget set aside for additional seasonal hires.

As for information on uniforms, salary, shift schedules and more, Carter said the program is still in the works and no other news is available at the moment.

UGG boots on the loose
Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police Fourth Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the man who stole more than a dozen pairs of boots from a Commack store in November. A man wearing glasses and a hooded jacket stole 15 pairs of UGG boots from Sports Authority on Veterans Memorial Highway, on Nov. 29 at about 4 p.m. The boots have a combined value of approximately $2,800. Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

Televisions teleported
A 36-year-old man from Medford and 39-year-old woman from Middle Island were arrested on Jan. 9 at 9:50 p.m. after police said they stole three televisions from Walmart on Veterans Highway in Islandia. They were both charged with petit larceny.

Tools taken
On Jan. 7 a 29-year-old man from Smithtown was arrested after police said he stole power tools from a residence on Wayside Lane in Smithtown at 9 a.m. He was charged with petit larceny.

Blurred lines
Police said a 50-year-old from Rocky Point was driving drunk at 11:25 p.m. on Jan. 7. He was pulled over on Route 25 in St. James after police said he turned left in the right lane and drove across traffic. He was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated.

Busted at Busters
A 56-year-old man from Greenlawn was arrested on Jan. 9 at 8:30 p.m. after police said he was selling alcohol to an underage person at Beverage Busters in Commack. He was charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child with alcohol.

Pill problem
On Jan. 7 a 32-year-old man from Commack was arrested after police said he was in possession of prescription pills without a prescription inside a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup truck on Wesleyan Road at about 10:45 p.m. He was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Purse nabbed at Napper’s
Police said an unknown person stole a pocketbook with credit cards and a license from Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown on Jan. 7 just after midnight.

Ale House to Jailhouse
A 20-year-old man from Port Jefferson Station was arrested on Jan. 8 for robbery. Police said the man approached another person with a silver semi-automatic handgun and stole cash and a cellphone from the victim outside Miller’s Commack Ale House on Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack. Police arrested the man that day around 1:15 p.m. at his residence.

Double the trouble
Police arrested a 24-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman from Coram for loitering and unlawful possession of a controlled substance on Jan. 5. The man allegedly injected himself with heroin before throwing the needle into the woods near Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Port Jefferson Station and was also found to be in possession of marijuana.

Tools of the trade
On Jan. 8 at 5 p.m., police arrested a 24-year-old man from Mount Sinai for criminal possession of stolen property. Police said he had three power tools that he received in December from another unidentified person, who had stolen them. Police said the man was also in possession of a plastic bag of cocaine, but he was not charged with drug possession.

The seat warmer
A 19-year-old Miller Place resident was arrested on Jan. 5 for unauthorized use of a car. Police said the man entered a 2011 Jeep Cherokee at a residence on North Country Road, then a 2002 Chevrolet on the same road shortly afterward. Police said the man didn’t steal anything but remained in the car. He was arrested around 2 a.m.

Swipe left
According to police, an unknown person stole an iPhone from a home on Beaver Lane in East Setauket. Police said the individual didn’t break into the home. The incident happened on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.

A handy heist
Police said someone entered the Lowe’s on Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook on Jan. 8 at 11 p.m. and stole an electric heater and leaf blower.

Push it, push it real good
According to police, two unidentified males got into a physical altercation on Jan. 10 on West Broadway in Port Jefferson. The two men shoved one another multiple times. One was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for a laceration.

Idling while intoxicated
Police arrested a woman from Port Jefferson for driving while ability impaired after receiving a call about the 45-year-old woman sitting in a 2010 red Toyota Prius outside the Applebee’s on  Route 25A in Miller Place. Police said the engine was running when officials arrested the woman on Jan. 4 at 9:40 p.m.

Stopped in a flash
Police arrested a 26-year-old man from Setauket on Jan. 7 at 12:23 a.m. for driving while ability impaired in a 2006 Honda Civic. According to police, officials pulled the man over on Route 25A in East Setauket for speeding and discovered he was intoxicated.

Path to prison
A 35-year-old man from Centereach was arrested for driving while ability impaired in a 2008 Jeep on Jan. 5. He was heading west on North Bicycle Path in Selden when he got into a car crash. Police discovered the man was impaired by drugs and he was arrested at the scene.

License to steal
On Jan. 7 at 1:35 a.m., a 47-year-old Holbrook man was arrested for stealing two license plates from a 1998 Ford Explorer on South Coleman Road in Selden. And between Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the following day, an unknown person stole license plates from a car parked on Old Town Road in Port Jefferson Station. It was not clear whether the two incidents were related.

A safe decision
On Jan. 8 between 6 and 8 p.m., an unknown person broke into Old Coach Motors in Mount Sinai and stole a safe that stored money and papers.

Hickory dickory smash
An unknown person broke a window of a residence on Hickory Street in Mount Sinai on Jan. 4 at 2:56 p.m.

Mad for music
On Jan. 10, an unknown person stole headphones and batteries from the Walmart on Nesconset Highway in East Setauket. The incident happened around 12:25 p.m.

Lost and found
Someone stole a 2000 Honda Civic from a residence in Lake Grove on Jan. 9. Police said the owner of the car didn’t know it was stolen until after the car was recovered on Elwood Road in Centereach on Jan. 10, around 1 a.m.

Shell game
According to police, just past midnight on Jan. 10 someone stole a television from a shed at a residence on Shell Road in Rocky Point.

Cops say arrests are up and recent violence gang-related

Christina Fudenski, a Greenlawn resident, speaks with police officer Angela Ferrara at South Huntington Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Residents of Huntington are calling for an increase in staffing at the Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct in the wake of three separate shootings that occurred in less than a month.

Deputy Inspector William Read assured community members gathered at South Huntington Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 13, that the police force is completely competent in its current size, but residents were not convinced.

“We want to ask for outside help,” Jim McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident said. “We can’t go on this way, our kids are being shot at.”

Luis Hernandez, 21, Aaron Jolly, 18, and Nelson Hernandez, 22, all survived shootings in the Huntington Station and Greenlawn area in late July and August. Luis Hernandez and Jolly both suffered from gunshot wounds to their legs, and Nelson Hernandez was shot in the back.

“What we’re doing is working, our program is effective, and crime stats are down dramatically,” Read said. “We are having success, but it can’t be 100 percent.”

The police associate many of the recent problems in the area with gangs, and Read said that gang cops have been out undercover investigating these cases constantly. He said there are a number of social programs combatting gang issues as well.

But the crowd argued that not enough is being done, and that more problems are arising.

Lisa MacKenzie, a Huntington resident, asked what the police are doing about the ongoing problem of intoxicated individuals passing out in the streets in Huntington Station.

“Why are these individuals taken to the hospital and not arrested?”

Officer Angela Ferrara explained that it is always the duty of the police and the standard procedure to treat someone medically first. She also noted that this has become a concern in many different areas in Huntington.

“What if I am on Depot Road in the future and hit [someone] who is intoxicated and attempting to cross the street, who will actually get in trouble then?” MacKenzie said. “We need drunk crossing signs, instead of deer crossing signs.”

Residents also complained about the how 911 dispatchers handle calls. Several said in the past, dispatchers have told them to either leave their car or house to get closer to a scene.

“They had the nerve to tell me to flag down one of the patrol cars when I called, and to get out of my car…this is putting the public at risk,” Nicholas Wieland, of The Huntingtonian news website, said. “You guys have some homework to do with the 911 service.”

Robert Finnerty, a Huntington Station resident, brought his son to the meeting, and said he is now afraid to go outside.

“We have people in the street across from us saying ‘I will shoot you in the street, I will kill you,’ and it’s scaring my son,” Finnerty said. He said the residents yelling this are people living in single dwelling homes occupied by five different families.

“We have to go after the overcrowded houses,” McGoldrick said. “It’s not fair to the police officers and fire firefighters. One of the biggest problems is how housing is handled in this town.”

As members of the audience agreed housing is a town issue, not a police one, the tone changed toward a desire to see a change in leadership in Huntington Town. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (R) were both present at the meeting, as well as Huntington Town Board candidate Jennifer Thompson, a member of the Northport-East Northport school board.

Despite the criticism throughout the night, the 2nd Precinct deputy inspector defended the department’s work.

“We’re covering all our sectors, we’ve been doing it for years,” he said.

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