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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Dispute over gang cases in Suffolk leaves residents at risk

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini announces the

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini announces the arrests of 13 people in North Amityville and the seizure of guns and drugs at a Feb. 19, 2016 press conference. Credit: James Carbone

It would be easy to see last week’s dueling explanations from Suffolk’s police department and district attorney’s office on why six suspected gang members arrested on felony charges were released as a new round in the political feud between County Executive Steve Bellone and DA Thomas Spota.

But it’s considerably more than that.

This time, there are entire neighborhoods that could be caught up in the fray.

On Feb. 17 and again on Feb. 19, special operations teams in each of Suffolk’s seven police precincts fanned out to execute warrants — at homes flagged by residents as suspected drug warrens, according to a Newsday report.

Police investigated and ultimately decided to pull in 13 suspects in an operation that Timothy Sini, Suffolk’s police commissioner, said muted a potential gang war.

Ah, but what happens in the community when six of the suspects, arrested on felony charges, end up being released on their own recognizance to return to their neighborhoods?

And what happens when one of those suspects ends up being arrested again — just four days after his release — on charges of allegedly stabbing two people?

Could one potential casualty be trust in the police department and, by extension, in Suffolk’s government, for which protecting the public is a key responsibility?

According to the report last Tuesday by Newsday’s Tania Lopez, police blamed the DA’s office for the suspects’ release, citing prosecutors’ failure to indict them — in time enough to avoid their being released pending their next court dates.

The DA’s office pushed back, however, saying, nope, it’s the police department’s fault — for not providing evidence sufficient and timely enough for prosecutors to bring to a grand jury.

On Friday, Justin Meyers, a police department spokesman, said the department — contrary to information initially given to Newsday — did not build the Feb. 17 and Feb. 19 cases from neighborhood tips.

Either way, the result was the same: Residents in neighborhoods across the county watched police raid local drug dens, only to discover later the disconnect between Suffolk’s DA and Bellone’s police department.

To be clear, the suspects still have charges pending against them, although police on Friday said they would not address more specific questions because the cases remain open.

But has the feud slowed anonymous tips to the department?

No, Meyers said.

“The tips keep coming in,” he said, “and we continue to pursue them.”

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