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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Mounting LI gang slayings frighten, frustrate residents

Suffolk County police investigate the crime scene where

Suffolk County police investigate the crime scene where four bodies were found in the woods near the Central Islip Recreation Center on April 13, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

How are you going to protect us?” a woman called out from the back of a room last week, interrupting Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini’s plea for those who know something about the slayings of four young men to speak up.

Her question, which arose spontaneously in a session at which queries were supposed to be written and put to officials by a moderator, was the dramatic high point of a gathering of more than 100 people in Central Islip.

For many frustrated residents, Tuesday’s meeting mimicked another held across the street at Teatro Yerbabruja on Carleton Avenue just eight months earlier — after the slayings of two high school girls in Brentwood.

How are you going to protect us?

Sini said police would do “anything necessary,” from providing relocation housing to immigration benefits. If residents don’t trust police, he said, go to a pastor, teacher, friend — anyone who will pass along information, even as police visibly ramp up patrols.

Angie Carpenter, Islip supervisor, said the town would add more lights and security cameras in the park where the mutilated bodies of four young men were found April 12.

Howard Koenig, superintendent of the Central Islip schools, said the district was adding cameras that, if necessary, could stream live to police. Koenig also directed residents to the district’s home page, where there’s a number to anonymously report gang activity to Suffolk’s probation department. Residents asked him to repeat it — 631-582-5070 — twice.

Gangs in Suffolk aren’t new, according to the 2012 report, “Profile of Gangs in Suffolk County,” prepared by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council using statistics from 1999.

Back then, MS-13 was the second-largest of eight major gangs. But long before 2017, it had evolved into the largest and most violent, according to retired Suffolk Det. John Olivia.

He spent three years on a federal Long Island Gang Task Force before then-Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke, backed by County Executive Steve Bellone, pulled cops from the task force to attack gangs at the precinct level instead.

“The bottom line is that MS-13 members don’t care,” said Olivia, whose work with the task force helped convict 40 MS-13 members. “Snitch? Bam, you’re dead. Don’t do the work? Bam, you’re dead. And if they can’t get to you, they’ll make a telephone call to El Salvador or somewhere else and say, ‘Kill his parents,’ ‘Kill his brother.’ ”

He’s not surprised by the youth of recent suspects. “You don’t see a lot of 30-year-old MS-13 members, because long before then they’re either dead or, if they are here — we in the U.S. do a good job of prosecuting them — they’re in prison.”

Olivia said he believes that Sini, who early on in his tenure re-established police involvement with federal investigators, is doing a good job. Still, Olivia says he’s angry about the opportunities lost when Burke — who is now serving a federal sentence for beating a suspect and attempting to cover it up — pulled Suffolk from the task force.

“We lost a lot of intelligence that we had and should have kept,” said Olivia, who retired after pleading guilty in 2014 to misdemeanor official misconduct for leaking information to Newsday.

“We had established ties with every MS-13 clique, we were proactive because we would get tips about planned killings, about gun buys,” he said. “Here it is, years later, and you don’t have those sources.”

Sini and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) are pushing authorities in Washington to review how unaccompanied minors who enter the country without documentation, and are placed with family or sponsors, are monitored — although Sini stressed that gang members account for only a fraction of those minors.

Sini’s efforts are good news for some Brentwood residents, including Lenny Tucker, who started the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens after a friend of his son’s was shot to death by MS-13 members on Tucker’s lawn.

“I am tired of things happening and people showing up and making promises and then disappearing until next time,” said Tucker. “The fact is that MS-13 has taken over the community, and we have to talk about illegal immigration and we have to talk about how the federal government put these young gang members here and walked away.”

Sini stressed that Suffolk police do not inquire about legal status. But skepticism about the federal government runs deep.

“Even the mention of the federal government checking on any status or doing any kind of update brings to immigrants’ minds that they are going to be deported,” said Joselo Lucero, whose brother, Marcelo, was stabbed to death by a member of a gang of teenagers who set out to beat up immigrants in Patchogue in 2008. “The government would have to be clear about what they are looking for.”

Lucero attended last week’s funeral of Justin Llivicura, whose family is from the same part of Ecuador as Lucero. During the service, Llivicura’s mother, Blanca Zhicat, had a message for residents: “From here on out, I want support for the police. I don’t want other parents to go through what I’ve been through.”

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