Crips and Bloods continue to operate lucrative drug operations in a handful of lower-income Nassau and Suffolk neighborhoods, carrying out gang-related shootings even as violent crime has largely disappeared in many parts of Long Island, according to public records and police officials.
Investigators say they have identified roughly 2,700 Bloods and Crips members on the Island over the past decade -- mostly in small sections within the Hempstead, Freeport and Uniondale areas of Nassau County and parts of Central Islip, Brentwood and Huntington Station in Suffolk County.
Long Island's continuing gang problem -- now more than two decades old -- resurfaced last month after gunmen carried out a spate of shootings in both counties. While no arrests have been made in the killings, officials suspect they may be gang-related.
In the wake of those homicides -- three in Hempstead and one in Central Islip -- police said they were focusing on the Crips, Bloods, MS-13 and other local gangs likeliest to commit violent crimes during the warm-weather months, when shootings typically spike.
"When it comes to those gangs, we're no different from the rest of the world," Suffolk Police Chief of Detectives William Madigan said of the Crips and Bloods. "Suppression of gang violence is the top priority."
Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, head of the Nassau police department's intelligence section, said a small number of violent gangsters are responsible for much of the county's gun and drug violence.
Many local Bloods and Crips are active in heroin, cocaine and marijuana trafficking, which leads to territorial feuds and other disagreements between the rival groups -- as well as MS-13 and unaffiliated residents, police say.
The Crips, Bloods and MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, have some of the most violent members on Long Island, police say. The transnational street gang, which federal officials have identified as a national security threat, includes members from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. They have been blamed for a rash of violent crimes that include shootings, machete slayings and robberies.
Among the estimated 2,700 Crips and Bloods on Long Island tracked by police in recent years are hundreds who have been sent to prison, are no longer active, or have stopped committing violent acts for fear of re-incarceration, police say.
For active gang members, armed robberies and car thefts can be reliable sources of income, police say. And the gangs' initiation rituals, involving the savage beatings of new members or the shooting of rivals, are closely tracked by investigators.
Gang shootings a concern
While no statistics were available on the specific number of crimes gang members committed in recent years, officials say gang members or their affiliates are responsible for many of the shootings in both counties.
In Nassau, these crimes are committed mostly in the so-called corridor communities of Hempstead, Roosevelt, Westbury, Uniondale and Freeport, through which a majority of the county's firearms and drugs are trafficked, police say.
"With the Bloods and Crips, there might be 30 sets of them, some with 10 to 15 guys or more," said Ryder. "Of those, there's a small percentage who cause damage. And those are the guys we are going after every day. Ten percent of the people are committing 90 percent of the crime."
In Suffolk, the Bloods and Crips are also major targets for police investigators, who track their criminal activities, changes in their hierarchies and territorial shifts.
"The Bloods have a leadership structure, and the Crips have a very similar leadership structure," said Det. Sgt. Michael McDowell of the Suffolk police department's criminal intelligence bureau. "What we mostly see [from the gangs] here is a mix of narcotics and some street robberies."
Crime statistics from both counties demonstrate how violence continues to plague lower-income areas even as overall, Islandwide crime totals plunge to historic lows.
The number of recorded violent crimes -- including shootings, robberies and assaults -- fell to a record low of 2,101 in Nassau last year, according to statistics compiled by New York State. Most of those crimes occurred in those corridor communities, where median income levels are lower than in Long Island's more affluent communities, records show.
In Suffolk, recorded violent crimes fell to 1,914 last year -- also a new low, according to state records. Many of the most violent acts were concentrated in parts of Central Islip, Brentwood and surrounding neighborhoods.
"It's not just empty rhetoric when we call this a tale of two Long Islands," said anti-gang activist Jerrod Carpenter of Hempstead, who helped mediate a 2012 gang war between Bloods and Crips there. "The Bloods, Crips, MS-13 and these other gangs are active in the lower-income areas, so when we talk about crime being at record lows, it's a little misleading. Because for the folks in these areas, the danger is very real."
Three people were fatally shot in Hempstead Village last month alone, including a 16-year old boy whose death may be drug-related and linked to the Bloods, police sources said. The two other May killings in the village -- which has its own police force but relies on Nassau police to investigate homicides and certain gang cases -- may be linked to a drug deal gone bad between an MS-13 marijuana dealer and a gang known as the Haitian Mafia, sources said.
In Suffolk County, a 31-year-old man was shot to death in a possible gang-involved dispute on Memorial Day in Central Islip.
Still, police say, violence in gang-plagued communities would be far worse if not for their intelligence-led policing strategies and intensive anti-gang efforts.
Both county police departments use predictive analysis -- the digital dissection of police data to identify likely offenses, their locations and even perpetrators -- to fight criminal groups including Crips and Bloods. They also conduct aggressive plainclothes gang operations -- a strategy that garnered attention last month when Nassau temporarily reassigned about 45 plainclothes officers, including 12 from the Gang Abatement Program.
Nassau police say they are throwing enough resources at the gang problem, including officers from the bureau of special operations and gang unit, to keep crime down. They are also part of an Islandwide federal gang task force.
As an example of successful anti-gang casework, police point to an operation that dealt a major blow to the Crips last year. Nassau investigators, with the help of the FBI, arrested more than a dozen members of the notoriously violent "Rollin' 60s" set in April.
But even as one gang grows weaker or dissembles, police said, another often appears. In Roosevelt, for example, a new gang known as the "Rose Block Bloods" recently formed, leading police to scrutinize the probation status of its members.
"When a gang starts to emerge," said Ryder, "we're all over them."