With Suffolk in the spotlight after a series of killings by suspected MS-13 members, Nassau police knew that issuing a news release Wednesday about the arrest of two brothers in separate machete attacks in Westbury would create a firestorm.
Were the machete attacks in Nassau related to the deaths of four young men bludgeoned to death last month in a public park in Central Islip? Is mayhem involving MS-13 gang members spreading east to west?
No, said Thomas Krumpter, Nassau’s acting police commissioner, in an interview Wednesday. “MS-13 is not overly active in Nassau,” he said. “We have a number of other street gangs and we are very aggressive in managing them all.”
Robert Troiano, a senior policy adviser in the Town of North Hempstead, and a former town board member, Nassau County legislator and Westbury school board member, agreed.
“We had some MS-13 graffiti on the middle school, but oh, that had to be at least 10 years ago,” said Troiano, a New Cassel resident for five decades.
Legis. Siela A. Bynoe, a Democrat who succeeded Troiano in the county legislature, said police were doing a good job. “My office hasn’t gotten complaints about MS-13 from community members,” she said.
What makes Nassau’s experience with MS-13 so different from Suffolk’s?
Krumpter declined to speculate. But Nassau’s smaller geographic area likely helps. So does its uninterrupted participation in the federal gang task force and a long-standing policy of not querying victims or potential witnesses about immigration status.
Suffolk covers 2,373 square miles compared with Nassau’s 453. That’s a big difference, even though neither county department — because of town, village and city police forces — is responsible for policing every square inch of their territory.
While Nassau’s policies regarding immigrants have remained consistent, Suffolk, as part of an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, put into place new policies, and more training, to ensure nondiscriminatory policing of Latinos. The U.S. Justice Department began investigating Suffolk’s police department in 2009, after the killing of Ecuadorean national Marcelo Lucero during an attack by a group of teenagers in Patchogue.
Also, Suffolk police former chief of department James Burke — who is in federal prison for beating a suspect and attempting to cover it up — had ended the department’s participation in the federal gang task force until current Commissioner Timothy Sini restored it.
Krumpter did tout Nassau’s muscular intelligence-gathering operation. “If we see a violent gang emerging, we do what we need to do so that things don’t get to a point where a gang takes over a park, or a school or a neighborhood,” he said.
In March, a man who told police he was an MS-13 member was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter and for stabbing the child’s mother and another woman in Hempstead. The suspect, Tommy Vladim Alvarado-Ventura, 31, returned to the United States four times after being deported to El Salvador.
Also in March, the body of an unidentified male was discovered in the Massapequa Preserve. Krumpter said that while the death could be gang-related, it was too soon to make a determination.
During a meeting last week with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who came to Long Island in response to brutal slayings in Central Islip and Brentwood, Krumpter said he, like Sini, requested an expanded federal task force, more federal prosecutors and more thorough vetting of unaccompanied minors, who entered the U.S. illegally but are protected under anti-trafficking laws.
As for policing MS-13, Krumpter said, “We have identified 600 MS-13 in Nassau, but if there are 60 people out of those 600 that are actively engaged in violent criminal activity, that would be a lot.”
In Suffolk, police said they’ve made almost 200 arrests of gang members since September 2016, when two Brentwood High School girls were beaten to death.