Residents and police in Southampton Town fear recent gang-style graffiti discovered near Wildwood Lake signals a move eastward by vicious street gangs.
Southampton Town police, who rarely face the gang activity so familiar to residents of Brentwood, Central Islip and other Suffolk communities, said they are adding more patrols near the Northampton lake, combing through crime data, and reaching out to residents for information.
“We’re not going to tolerate this here,” said Lt. Susan Ralph of the Southhampton Town Police on Thursday. “We don’t want this growing from graffiti to anything else.”
Police have yet to see an uptick in gang activity or related crime since the graffiti — with hallmarks of the 18th Street gang — was found April 2 scrawled on the walls of a bathroom building near the lake.
The investigation continues and police are still trying to determine whether the graffiti, which covered a large part of the building, is the work of the gang.
The area has see isolated incidents over the years of graffiti associated with another gang, MS-13, but not their 18th Street rivals, police said.
Law enforcement considers both groups to be among the most notorious street gangs in the United States.
The 18th Street gang has a far smaller presence on Long Island than MS-13, but residents and police say they are concerned the recent graffiti signals their intent to ratchet up their East End presence. Police suspect 18th Street attempted to make a bold statement when they scrawled gang signs and threatening messages targeting law enforcement and MS-13.
The level of concern over the graffiti was evident at a recent vocal meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. Some 60 residents attended the Monday meeting, dominated by concerns that 18th Street might be gaining a foothold in their East End communities. The residents said they were concerned crime would rise, people would be too scared to visit the lake, and a turf wars with MS-13 would erupt.
Both gangs sell drugs and extort individuals and business owners, and maintain strong ties to Central America, according to the FBI.
In September, an MS-13 member was sentenced in Central Islip for the killing of two members of rival gangs, including the fatal stabbing of a suspected member of the 18th Street gang.
“It’s really scary,” said Northampton Community Association president Ron Fisher, 34.
Gang activity “creeps into the community and takes over,” Fisher said. “It’s vitally important to cut it off before it spreads.”
The three communities, several miles north of the Hamptons, have been relatively free of gang activity beyond a few isolated incidents over the years. Ralph said a stabbing in a local bar two years ago involved a member of the MS-13 gang.
While the bathroom building is popular among cyclists passing through in the summer months, it does have its share of crime. Fisher said the building has become a haven for drug deals and is in need of added security such as lighting and surveillance cameras.
At the bathroom facility Thursday, the door to the women’s restroom had “X8 St” scrawled across it several times. The 18th Street gang, which traces its beginnings to the streets of Los Angeles, uses the Roman numeral X for 10.
The shower area had “18” inscribed on it in black spray-painted letters 2-feet-high. The white columns fronting the facility were covered with similar writings in black, as were a sign, wooden fence and the garbage bins.
“They are marking their territory, that they run that area, and letting other gangs know,” Lt. Ralph said.
On Thursday, Nicole Roberts emerged from a lakeside trail behind the bathroom building. She said she likes to spot the swans at the lake.
Roberts, 21, said she was saddened by the spectacle of so much graffiti on the building. But when she learned the concerns about emerging gang activity, her mood darkened.
“People may not want to come out here as much,” said Roberts, of Wading River. “People should be able to go down there and feel safe.”