Cops: Drugs, gangs spawn Suffolk gun violence increase
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Gun violence has increased in Suffolk County this year, records show, and police are blaming it largely on drugs and gangs.
In contrast, gun violence in Nassau dropped by 24 percent for the first 10 months of the year, compared with the same period last year.
Sixty-three people were wounded by gunfire in areas patrolled by the Suffolk County Police Department between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, according to records compiled by the department. That represents a 21 percent increase from the same period last year, when 52 people were shot.
The number of shooting incidents in which people were struck increased in Suffolk during the first 11 months of the year, rising to 54, an 8 percent increase compared with 50 last year, the records show.
The jump counters a downward trend in gun violence in Suffolk that started after 2008 when the number of shooting incidents reached 93 for the year. In 2009, the number dropped to 84. It decreased again in 2010 -- to 81 -- and fell to 77 in 2011 before dropping again last year.
"The vast majority of these shootings involve gangs or drugs or a personal vendetta," Suffolk police Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon said. "Those are the major causes of the violence."
The number of shooting victims started dropping in Suffolk after 2010, when it reached a high of 104 for the year. In 2011, it fell to 96 before declining again last year.
"The trend over the years is certainly down," Fallon said.
In areas patrolled by the Nassau County Police Department, gun violence continued a downward trend that started in 2008, according to records.
Twenty-nine people were wounded by gunfire in that department's jurisdiction between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, the most recent records show. That's a 24 percent decrease from the same period last year, when 38 people were shot.
The number of individual shooting incidents in which people were injured has also decreased in areas patrolled by Nassau police, falling to 24, down 29 percent compared with 34 last year, records show. Those numbers are part of an overall decline in violent crime, which has fallen 17 percent in areas patrolled by the department through Oct. 31.
Reasons for the disparity between Nassau and Suffolk were not clear, officials said. But Suffolk police said the fact that gun violence in their jurisdiction is rarely random -- but rather connected to drug-dealing and gangs -- suggests the public is safe.
The increase has led to changes in Suffolk police strategy. In August 2012, three officers were removed from a federal anti-gang task force because fighting gangs on the precinct level would be more effective, police said.
But department officials backtracked in June, saying the department would rejoin the task force. That announcement was made a week after the killings of three men in a Central Islip neighborhood less than two days apart. Law enforcement sources have said two of the shootings may have been the work of MS-13 gang members.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decline in reported gun violence in Nassau occurred amid a controversial precinct consolidation plan, which was approved by the county legislature and began when the Eighth Precinct absorbed the Second Precinct in May 2012. The Third Precinct merged with the Sixth that July, and last September, the Fourth Precinct absorbed the Fifth. The planned merger of the Seventh Precinct into the First Precinct has been postponed.
"Together with successful gun buyback programs that took 3,000 guns off our streets, Nassau County leads the nation in safety thanks to the dedication of our officers and the intelligence-led policing methods they employ, which has reduced crime by more than 10 percent over the past four years," County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement Sunday.
The increase in shootings in Suffolk comes amid an overall year-over-year decrease in reported violent crimes, which have fallen 10 percent in Suffolk police jurisdictions through Nov. 30 -- to 1,496 from 1,668, records show.
"Overall, we're driving crime down," Fallon said.
The number of property crimes reported in Suffolk, including burglaries and larcenies, is down 9 percent through Nov. 30, falling to 18,812 from 20,628 last year, records show.
But some Suffolk residents said the amount of gun violence this year has left them feeling less safe.
"There's more people getting shot than years past, and that's disturbing," said Eric Marino, 36, a father of two from Medford. "You never want to see those numbers going up, because you don't know if we're on track to go back to a time when Suffolk was less safe."
LI gun violence
(Jan. 1- Nov. 30)
People shot in Suffolk police jurisdiction
Number of shooting incidents with injuries
(Jan. 1- Oct. 31)
People shot in Nassau police jurisdiction
Number of shooting incidents with injuries
Sources: Nassau and Suffolk County police departments