Suffolk does the right thing on anti-gang task force
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Suffolk County did the right thing by saying it will rejoin a federal anti-gang task force. And the county and the police department are to be commended for moving swiftly after three fatal shootings over fewer than two days in Central Islip.
The police department still isn't releasing much information about the killings last week. And police officials Monday downplayed their decision to rejoin the task force, whose members had been effective in rounding up and securing convictions of multiple gang leaders.
There's no shame in the department's decision to up its game, because police say they believe two of the three deaths are gang-related. Rejoining the federal task force, adding more patrols and making more use of the department's narcotics and warrant enforcement units all are promising moves.
The last thing Central Islip or any community on Long Island needs is a summer like the one a few years ago, when gang violence in Huntington Station, North Bellport, Central Islip and other communities left a trail of bodies.
Suffolk officials left the federal task force last year because, County Executive Steve Bellone and police officials said, fighting gangs on the precinct level would be more effective.
Suffolk's uninterrupted participation in the federal task force wouldn't have guaranteed prevention of the latest shootings. But having an existing operation, rather than having to rebuild one, wouldn't have hurt.
James Burke, the police chief of department, said Monday that police decided to rejoin the task force so that the community would feel safer, and that the switch also would help the department's push to control crime.
Burke noted that the federal government is particularly effective in helping municipalities combat gangs because the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies have access to a wider variety of potential charges against suspected gang leaders and their followers.
Law enforcement sources told Newsday that they've learned from informants that a new crop of MS-13 members were expected to "draw blood" from rival gang members.
The quick police response in the three shootings, gang-related or not, is key because innocent people all too often get caught in the crossfire.
Bellone early on addressed the Central Islip community, reassuring residents that the county would work to ensure that gang violence will not flourish.
"We will not allow gun violence to overtake any street in Suffolk County," Bellone said.
That's the right message, especially from the county's top elected official, who early on made eradicating gang violence a cornerstone of his administration.
The trick is to keep fighting gang violence, which, like invasive bamboo, seems primed to continue spreading even as gang leaders are taken down.
Suffolk police are willing to make changes -- including rejoining the federal anti-gang task force -- to do just that, Burke said.
The department's efforts should help the community feel safer; so will the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the shooters.