Gun crimes are spiking in Suffolk County, with fatal shootings more than tripling and the number of violent crimes committed using a firearm increasing by more than 30 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, new statistics show.
Nassau County has seen a nearly 25 percent drop in violent gun crimes over the same period.
In Suffolk, police said 10 people were killed with guns from January to June, compared with three in the same period last year, according to a report released this month from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The Suffolk report also showed there were 203 firearm-related violent crimes -- including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- from January to June, compared with 154 in the same period last year, a 31.8 percent increase. The number of shootings decreased 6.5 percent to 29 this year from 31 in 2014, while the number of shooting victims rose 12.5 percent to 36 in 2015 from 32 in 2014.
Among this year's Suffolk gun killings was a June 3 triple homicide in Wyandanch, which police have said is believed to be gang-related. No arrests have been made. And one of the police department's own was wounded by gunfire in March. Suffolk police Officer Mark Collins was shot twice in the neck and hip by alleged gang member Sheldon Leftenant in Huntington Station.
Suffolk Chief of Detectives William Madigan said the violence in the county was not centered in any single community and could be attributed to a number of factors, including gangs and drugs. Madigan declined to discuss specific strategies used by the department to tackle the spike, citing ongoing initiatives and investigations.
But, Madigan said, although the number of gun killings from January to June is up, Suffolk is on track to record fewer homicides this year than the 28 last year.
He attributed the increase in violent crimes using guns to a bump in reported robberies. In some cases the victim believed that the suspect had a weapon, but didn't. Madigan said he could not quantify how often that occurred.
In Nassau, the police department had 89 firearm-related violent crimes this year, a 24.6 percent decrease from the 118 for the same period in 2014. The number of shootings in which someone was injured decreased in 2015 to 9 from 13 in 2014. The number of shooting victims also decreased, to 11 in 2015 from 14 in 2014 -- a 21.4 percent decline.
Police use technology, data
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, citing the police department's 30 percent overall crime drop over five years, said, "Intelligence-led policing models and enhanced technology have allowed our officers to crack down on firearm offenses and combat continually changing crime trends."
Nassau acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter also credited his department's intelligence-led policing model -- relying heavily on data -- and a concentration of resources in crime-prone areas of Uniondale and Roosevelt for the decreases.
"We're seeing here in Nassau County significant wins," Krumpter said. "We have more work to do and I'll be the first to tell you that. . . . But we're moving the line very significantly. The numbers continue to move in the right direction."
The gun data are contained in a new report for the Gun Involved Violence Elimination, or GIVE initiative, a $13.3 million state grant program in its second year, which is aimed at decreasing shootings and homicides in 20 law enforcement agencies' jurisdictions on Long Island and upstate, including in Nassau, Suffolk and Hempstead.
Grant money is also provided to district attorneys' offices, probation departments and sheriffs' offices in the 17 counties with 87 percent of the violent crime in the state outside of New York City.
Cumulatively, the police departments receiving the grant saw a 10.7 percent decline in firearm-related crime and a 13.2 percent decrease in the number of people killed by guns, the report shows.
Suffolk saw the greatest increases in gun killings and violent gun crimes of all the law enforcement agencies participating in the program, including Hempstead, Mount Vernon and Rochester.
Suffolk police received $395,500 this year from the grant, which has been used to pay overtime for more personnel in the patrol and detective divisions to "specifically target firearms crimes," said Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon, a department spokesman. He said the funds have also been used to purchase "certain computer software" and "specialized surveillance equipment," on which he declined to give details.
Localities shape strategies
Michael Green, executive deputy commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which administers the GIVE program, said in addition to the funding, state officials work with local jurisdictions to implement strategies such as "hot-spot policing" and street outreach to reduce shootings and homicides -- but the localities shape their own strategies.
"It's not like we're the teacher or the Big Brother . . . It's not a dictatorial relationship, in the sense that we're coming in and telling them what to do," Green said. "At the end of the day, they have the power and authority to decide what to do. And we're working with them, trying to help them to the extent we can. It's a great cooperative relationship."
Each department is required to have a monthly meeting to review statistics and strategies and report progress to the state, Green said. The state continually provides training sessions and other technical assistance to participants, he said.
Green praised Nassau, Suffolk and Hempstead, pointing to what he called positives in all of their statistics -- numbers he said should be analyzed over a longer term to come to any real conclusions.
In Suffolk, for example, he said: "The shooting incidents are down 6.5 percent, that's a positive. The homicides are up, that's a negative. You struggle with what's the relationship between those two. You tend to think you would see shooting incidents and homicides going in the same direction -- they're not."
He added: "To me, that's the kind of thing -- we take note of that. But you really need to look over time. In over a year, is the shooting incident number the one that really reflects the activity? And are the homicides for the six months an anomaly? Some of it's hard to answer right now, but obviously we'll continue to watch the data. I don't look at those numbers and draw the conclusion that everything is bad. There's certainly some very positive signs in the numbers, too."
New crime analysts hired
Nassau Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, commanding officer of the department's Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence Unit, said the department has this year hired five new crime analysts, crucial to the department's success in decreasing crime. Nassau police received about $440,000 from the grant, police said.
"From the academic side, we're doing it smarter, not harder," Ryder said. "We teach the cops the most they can absorb, and if they don't know it then they can go to their screen and get it. If not, they can speak to the precinct analyst . . . the intel center."
The combination of intelligence and old-fashioned police work, Ryder said, is the key to Nassau's gains on guns. "A lot of what you don't see is human intelligence; our informants give us information," Ryder said.
When cops get a tip, the intelligence analysts work up a profile on a suspect, complete with photos, address, and make and model of the suspect's car.
"Here's a person of interest that's probably carrying a gun," Ryder said. Plainclothes officers will then "follow him for a little bit. Once they have enough probable cause to go and make their approach, then they make their arrest."
Those tips are 65 percent to 70 percent accurate, he said.
In Hempstead, where firearm-related violent crimes are down 46.6 percent from 73 to 39 in the first six months of 2014 and 2015 respectively, according to the report, officials credit the same intelligence model used in Nassau.
Hempstead police received $272,000 from GIVE this year, funding the department's senior crime analyst Kimber Klein -- "a huge asset to us" -- and overtime for officers to work specialized patrols, Chief Michael McGowan said.
"It's hard to say how much overtime we'd be able to expend, the budget's tight," McGowan said. "GIVE is a very important grant for us to have. It enables us to put a lot more manpower on the street and recover more guns and drive down violent crime."
McGowan acknowledged there's still room for improvement, when asked about a pair of unsolved homicides from early July that fall outside the period of the report. McGowan said he could not comment on the status of the homicide investigations.
A couple of weeks ago, Hempstead police and Nassau probation conducted an "Operation Night Watch," visiting probationers at their homes and searching for weapons. Recovered in that effort was a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol, McGowan said.
"There's a lot of information sharing," McGowan said. "We believe those partnerships play a big role in us being able to fight crime and move our numbers in the right direction."