Two years ago, Suffolk police weren’t fighting the perception of violence in Huntington Station. They were fighting the reality — just as they are now in Brentwood, where six people have been killed or found dead since September.
In Huntington, the 2014 slaying of Maggie Rosales, a high school student, angered and galvanized the area into demanding increased, and more effective, policing after four residents were killed in 13 months.
In June, police arrested a suspect in the 2013 killing of Sarah Strobel; in August, the mutilated body of a teenager — who would become the fifth slaying — was found near a ball field in Greenlawn. In September, Adam Saalfield, 21, of Huntington Station, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to the maximum prison term, 25 years to life, in Rosales’ death.
That’s two closed cases and three ongoing open ones, Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said during a news conference Monday announcing a decrease in violent crime in the community, .
Residents say they feel safer — after years of starts and stops by police and elected officials in addressing crime.
“We’ve had progress and we’re looking forward, not backward,” said James McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident, who, with neighbors, stood nearby during the news conference.
In an interview, Sini said Suffolk police are working toward the same result in Brentwood, where residents have been reeling since September with the brutal deaths of best friends Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16 — and with the discovery of three sets of skeletal remains of young men who had been reported missing by their families.
But even with an increased police presence, the violence continued, with last month’s gang-related slaying of Dewann A.S. Stacks, 34, of Brentwood.
At one time, several years ago, Brentwood residents believed Suffolk police were making progress in combating gangs — after the arrest and conviction of multiple suspects as a result of work done by a local and federal Long Island Gang Task Force.
But Suffolk, under former police chief James Burke, who on Nov. 2 was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to federal corruption-related charges, withdrew from the task force.
“I have made clear that the decision to withdraw from the FBI Long Island Gang Taskforce was foolish,” Sini said Monday. “That was a bad decision, and that is why one of the first things we did when I came in was to reverse that decision.”
Does Sini believe that President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to deport criminals will help or hurt the department’s efforts to maintain ties close enough to keep getting information from immigrants about gangs?
Suffolk police “have no control over federal immigration policy, but we think it is important to continue investing in community policing programs,” he said. “Fear is not a good thing, we want to make sure people trust the police, that people feel safe talking to the police.”
That said, “It is important that we work with our federal law enforcement partners ... if that means working with Homeland Security to target known undocumented individuals who have committed serious crimes, that could be helpful,” Sini said.
Ultimately, the department’s objective for Brentwood is the same as it was for Huntington Station.
“The short term goal is to solve these crimes and get suspects off the street, which makes the community safer,” he said. “Longer term, it’s working with the federal government to eradicate MS-13 from Brentwood.”
The sooner it’s done, the better.