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Cops: Drugs, gangs spawn Suffolk gun violence increase

Police investigate the scene of a shooting on

Police investigate the scene of a shooting on Peach Street, between Ferndale Boulevard and Islip Avenue in Central Islip on Aug. 28, 2013. It was not clear if the shooting was gang-related, but Suffolk Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood), whose district covers the area, said he has seen an increase in gang-related activity. Photo Credit: James Carbone

An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

Gun violence has increased in Suffolk County this year, records show, and police are blaming it largely on drugs and gangs.

In contrast, gun violence in Nassau dropped by 24 percent for the first 10 months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

Sixty-three people were wounded by gunfire in areas patrolled by the Suffolk County Police Department between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, according to records compiled by the department. That represents a 21 percent increase from the same period last year, when 52 people were shot.

The number of shooting incidents in which people were struck increased in Suffolk during the first 11 months of the year, rising to 54, an 8 percent increase compared with 50 last year, the records show.

The jump counters a downward trend in gun violence in Suffolk that started after 2008 when the number of shooting incidents reached 93 for the year. In 2009, the number dropped to 84. It decreased again in 2010 -- to 81 -- and fell to 77 in 2011 before dropping again last year.

"The vast majority of these shootings involve gangs or drugs or a personal vendetta," Suffolk police Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon said. "Those are the major causes of the violence."

The number of shooting victims started dropping in Suffolk after 2010, when it reached a high of 104 for the year. In 2011, it fell to 96 before declining again last year.

"The trend over the years is certainly down," Fallon said.

In areas patrolled by the Nassau County Police Department, gun violence continued a downward trend that started in 2008, according to records.

Twenty-nine people were wounded by gunfire in that department's jurisdiction between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, the most recent records show. That's a 24 percent decrease from the same period last year, when 38 people were shot.

The number of individual shooting incidents in which people were injured has also decreased in areas patrolled by Nassau police, falling to 24, down 29 percent compared with 34 last year, records show. Those numbers are part of an overall decline in violent crime, which has fallen 17 percent in areas patrolled by the department through Oct. 31.

Reasons for the disparity between Nassau and Suffolk were not clear, officials said. But Suffolk police said the fact that gun violence in their jurisdiction is rarely random -- but rather connected to drug-dealing and gangs -- suggests the public is safe.

The increase has led to changes in Suffolk police strategy. In August 2012, three officers were removed from a federal anti-gang task force because fighting gangs on the precinct level would be more effective, police said.

But department officials backtracked in June, saying the department would rejoin the task force. That announcement was made a week after the killings of three men in a Central Islip neighborhood less than two days apart. Law enforcement sources have said two of the shootings may have been the work of MS-13 gang members.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decline in reported gun violence in Nassau occurred amid a controversial precinct consolidation plan, which was approved by the county legislature and began when the Eighth Precinct absorbed the Second Precinct in May 2012. The Third Precinct merged with the Sixth that July, and last September, the Fourth Precinct absorbed the Fifth. The planned merger of the Seventh Precinct into the First Precinct has been postponed.

"Together with successful gun buyback programs that took 3,000 guns off our streets, Nassau County leads the nation in safety thanks to the dedication of our officers and the intelligence-led policing methods they employ, which has reduced crime by more than 10 percent over the past four years," County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement Sunday.

The increase in shootings in Suffolk comes amid an overall year-over-year decrease in reported violent crimes, which have fallen 10 percent in Suffolk police jurisdictions through Nov. 30 -- to 1,496 from 1,668, records show.

"Overall, we're driving crime down," Fallon said.

The number of property crimes reported in Suffolk, including burglaries and larcenies, is down 9 percent through Nov. 30, falling to 18,812 from 20,628 last year, records show.

But some Suffolk residents said the amount of gun violence this year has left them feeling less safe.

"There's more people getting shot than years past, and that's disturbing," said Eric Marino, 36, a father of two from Medford. "You never want to see those numbers going up, because you don't know if we're on track to go back to a time when Suffolk was less safe."

 

 

LI gun violence

 

 

SUFFOLK COUNTY

 

(Jan. 1- Nov. 30)

People shot in Suffolk police jurisdiction

2012: 52

2013: 63

Number of shooting incidents with injuries

2012: 50

2013: 54

 

NASSAU COUNTY

 

(Jan. 1- Oct. 31)

People shot in Nassau police jurisdiction

2012: 38

2013: 29

Number of shooting incidents with injuries

2012: 34

2013: 24

Sources: Nassau and Suffolk County police departments

 

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Eric Marino. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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