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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Troopers to the rescue? Not so fast

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Suffolk County

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at Central Islip High School on Sept. 13, 2017. Cuomo announced a plan to send state troopers into 10 Long Island high schools to fight violent gangs. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Three men walk into a bar . . .

Scratch that. New York State troopers walk into a school, which is exactly what happened in Brentwood the day after an announcement from the governor’s office that the state would put trooper resources into fighting MS-13.

The gang is no joke.

But something’s off when troopers show up unexpectedly to a school where A: officials aren’t expecting to see troopers, and when B: there are no plans on what said troopers are supposed to be doing.

Fighting against MS-13 seems to be popular almost everywhere these days.

The gang is the key focus of a political commercial for Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, a Democrat who is running for county district attorney against attorney Ray Perini, a Republican.

Meanwhile, police sweeps of suspected MS-13 members have resulted in some instances where, attorneys and advocates assert, people with no gang association have been pulled in. One unintended result, according to some residents, has been some tarnishing of the relationship between immigrant communities and police, who have worked hard to build trust.

As for the state troopers, there’s zero doubt that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is concerned about MS-13 gang activity on Long Island. And as New York’s highest ranking elected official, he has access to considerable resources — including state troopers — to put toward the effort of taking MS-13 down, on the neighborhood, school and community level.

Even so, attention to detail is important, which is why many school districts on the state’s let’s-add-a-trooper list ended up being surprised, upset and in at least one instance, opposed, to the idea.

The state says it relied on information from Suffolk police to make the determinations.

But just because a school district actively works with police on gang issues doesn’t necessarily mean there is gang activity in the school — in fact, if the district and local police are doing the job right, such efforts should blunt gang influence.

By that notion, the opposite also would be true, if a school district was attempting to ignore, or hide, the issue by not working with police.

Last month, Cuomo announced that the state would deploy troopers to 10 of the “highest risk” schools in Suffolk to stop gangs from recruiting students. Almost immediately, the Huntington school district fought back against the implication that its schools were plagued with gang activity.

In Longwood, which also balked at the program, the district ultimately wrangled the closest thing to an apology from the state. That came in a letter from Letizia Tagliafierro, a Cuomo staffer stating, “We acknowledge that neither the Longwood SHS nor the JHS experience gang activity in their buildings.”

The letter, which is posted on the district website, also has been passed among parents and community members via Facebook and other social media.

Even after the rocky start, however, the state and some districts are beginning to discuss ways in which troopers could help.

“As this anti-gang initiative is advanced and implemented, we are working with school officials, community members and immigrant advocacy groups to develop a curriculum that will fit the individual districts and the communities,” Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, told Newsday in a statement last week.

That’s the way to go.

The more resources directed toward what communities say they need to fight gangs, the better.

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