By Kevin Redding
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini took his crusade against MS-13 gangs to Capitol Hill this morning, calling on the federal government to further join in the fight.
Sini testified May 24 before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Washington D.C. regarding the impact of MS-13 gang activity on local communities in a hearing entitled “Border Insecurity: The Rise of MS-13 and Other Transnational Criminal Organizations.”
Despite historic reductions in crimes in Suffolk County since last year, Sini said, there’s been an increase in gang violence connected to MS-13.
According to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the committee, the mission of the hearing was “to highlight these problems within our government agency, within our government laws and procedures, to make the public aware [and] lay out a reality so we can actually enact public policy to combat it and keep this homeland safe.”
Suffolk County has gained national attention after high profile murder investigations connected to the gang and a visit from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) to speak on the topic earlier in May.
Sini, speaking alongside Det. Scott Conley of the Chelsea Police Gang Unit in Massachusetts and Chief J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County Police in Maryland, outlined ways in which the federal government could assist local governments and better stamp out the escalation of gang activity. Some of Sini’s notable quotes from the testimony are below:
- More federal prosecutors should be provided to arraign RICO cases, designed to combat organized crime in the United States, against Ms-13 gang members. “If the Suffolk County Police department could launch a pilot program in collaboration with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office whereby every MS-13 arrest could be screened for possible federal prosecution — taking dangerous individuals off our streets, and generate incentives for defendants who cooperate with law enforcement.”
- Intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies throughout the country should be improved. “A singular database with information relating to identified MS-13 gang members would encourage multi-jurisdictional operations and allow departments to be more proactive in targeting MS-13 gang members in our communities.”
- Additional funding for community-based gang prevention and intervention programs tied directly to the number of unaccompanied children from other countries, who are most susceptible to gang recruitment, in local communities.
- Improvements should be made to the unaccompanied children program, including increased screening and monitoring of sponsors and post-placement services.
Since January 2016, Sini explained to committee members Johnson and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), out of the 45 homicides in Suffolk County, 17 of those are believed to be linked to MS-13 gangs and approximately 400 identified MS-13 gang members are active in the county.
The commissioner has rolled out aggressive gang eradication strategies within the police department since becoming commissioner in 2016 to target particular communities where the gang is most active, like Brentwood, and stamp out the activities of its members. The strategy has led to 200 MS-13 arrests, Sini said.
In March, in collaboration with the FBI’s Long Island Safe Streets Task Force, the department arrested four gang members tied to the killings of Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, Brentwood High School students beaten to death for “disrespecting the gang.” But, Sini said, it’s not enough.
“We recognize that our targeted enforcement and enhanced patrols will not alone lead to the eradication of gangs from our neighborhoods — MS-13 preys on our most vulnerable and if we do not provide the structure for these young people, MS-13 will,” Sini said.
The commissioner said the gang members in Suffolk County are predominantly male, between the ages 16 and 29, many of whom hold wage-paying jobs, differentiating themselves from other gangs.
“MS-13 often engages in violence for the sake of violence to increase notoriety of the gang and cause communities to fear the gang and its members,” Sini said.