By Kyle Barr
Amid escalating gang activity in Suffolk County, District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the creation of a gang task force to combat the rise, specifically of MS-13, the group linked to six Suffolk killings in 2017.
The gang unit, which has already begun operations, exists inside the new Enhanced Prosecution Bureau within the district attorney’s office. Sini said during a press conference Feb. 7 that the unit will focus specifically on prosecuting gang members, even lower-level ones or members who commit non-gang-related crimes. Just before the event a meeting took place, which is said to be the first of many bi-weekly meetings, co-led by the DA’s office and Suffolk County Police Department.
“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level.”
— Tim Sini
“Previously, when a gang member committed an offense, that prosecution issue was handled by any number of different bureaus within the district attorney’s office,” Sini said. “It created a system where gang members could fall through the cracks or be treated like any other individual. That is no longer going to be the case. We will be strategic in our prosecution against gang members.”
Though overall crime rates in Suffolk County have gone down, there has been persistent MS-13 activity, including the double homicide of young Brentwood residents Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, and the murder of four young Latino men in 2016. More than a dozen alleged gang members were arrested in 2017 and charged with their murders. Many more murders, attempted kidnappings and drug sales have also been linked to the gang.
The new focus on gang activity has become internalized in other law enforcement agencies, such as Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Department, which plans to revamp its gang unit inside the office and expand its data analytics and predictive models relating to gang crime.
“Part of it is going to be a learning curve, because my staff is going to have to learn my ideals and how I want to look at things, and it will require more resources,” Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”
Sini said that with this change the county will be more effective in deciding whether a crime should be processed locally or federally.
The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”
— Errol Toulon Jr.
“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level,” Sini said. “In some instances, it may make sense to start a case in the state system where we’re able to develop probable cause in an efficient manner while it may take longer to build that federal case.”
The 14-member gang unit includes eight assistant district attorneys and six special investigators. The gang unit will be led by deputy bureau chief Kate Wagner, and the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau will be led by veteran prosecutor Christiana McSloy, who has previously worked on gang cases in Nassau County’s District Attorney’s office.
The assistant district attorneys assigned to the gang unit will be on call on a rotating basis. and available around the clock for when police need assistance or advice. One of the prosecutors speaks Spanish.
The district attorney’s office also announced a partnership with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, which will still allow community members to send in tips on gang activity that, if leads to an arrest, offers cash rewards up to $5,000.
The new program was announced just over a week after President Donald Trump (R) made mention of MS-13 in his State of the Union address. He cited the rash of gang killings as reason for America to change its immigration laws. MS-13 activity in Suffolk also inspired the president to visit the Brentwood Suffolk Police Department Academy campus during summer 2017 in which he addressed a crowd of officers.