Following a series of vicious gang-related attacks in Suffolk County in recent weeks, some of which victimized innocent bystanders, Suffolk police will reorganize officers assigned to combating gangs across precincts into a single team, officials said Wednesday.
The new detail, tentatively called the Gang Suppression Team, will group personnel now assigned to anti-gang duties in different precincts as a way to help share intelligence and allow the department to focus resources on problem areas, said Police Commissioner Richard Dormer.
"These gangs, they don't care about precinct boundaries," he said. "We want all these guys working together as a cohesive group."
The gang team will include all 20 officers, five sergeants and one lieutenant now assigned throughout all seven precincts. Dormer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said they did not anticipate any reductions in staffing. The new team will be under the command of Dep. Insp. Gerard Gigante. He now leads the Patrol Special Operations Team Bureau, whose primary focus is illegal guns.
"If we have a gang-related problem in Brentwood or Central Islip, for example, it would just be three or four anti-gang police officers in the Third Precinct dealing with the particular problem," Levy said at the announcement in Hauppauge.
Under the new system, "they would be able to share resources with up to 20 officers throughout the county."
District Attorney Thomas Spota said the recent gang activity increase in the county followed a national trend, but he said it was unclear what was behind recent local violence that has left at least three dead and many others seriously hurt.
The team will work with community leaders, who will act as liaisons with people afraid to talk directly with officers about gangs, Spota said.
Police said the county's latest victim of gang violence was approached by two alleged MS-13 members, Josue Padilla Hernandez, 17, and Miguel Fuentes, 20, outside a Huntington Station apartment building on Monday morning. With Hernandez acting as lookout, Fuentes pulled a handgun and fired at the man, who was not injured and ran away. Both men were arrested a short time later.
Police said the unidentified victim was targeted because he'd dropped out of MS-13 "a couple of years ago," said Det. Sgt. Richard Auspacker. "There are always ramifications."
Hernandez and Fuentes pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder at their arraignments in First District Court in Central Islip Wednesday. Fuentes, who police said has been twice deported to his native El Salvador, was held on $1 million cash bail or $2 million bond. Hernandez was held on $250,000 cash bail or $500,000 bond.