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Overall crime down, but homicides up in Suffolk, cops say

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, center, talks

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, center, talks about the 2016 crime statistics in his office at police headquarters in Yaphank on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron look on. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County ended 2016 with a 5.7 percent decrease in crime — the lowest levels recorded in department history, except for homicides, which spiked with a double-digit percentage increase, statistics show.

Total crime went from 21,076 incidents reported in 2015 to 19,877 incidents reported last year, according to department statistics.

Violent crime — categorized as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, which includes shootings — fell 10.9 percent from 1,740 in 2015 to 1,551 last year, the statistics show.

Shootings also were down 4.1 percent, from 73 in 2015 to 70 last year. Rapes were down 34.7 percent, from 101 in 2015 to 66 in 2016. Robberies were down 20.1 percent, from 676 to 540, and aggravated assaults saw a 0.2 percent decline, from 895 to 893.

There has been a similar drop in crime in Nassau County, with a decrease of 8.7 percent in overall crime in 2016, that department said. Nassau has not yet released last year’s statistics on individual crime categories.

But homicides rose in Suffolk, as Newsday reported last month. Police recorded 34 homicides last year, a 36 percent increase from the 25 in 2015. They attribute the rise to an uptick in gang activity, which police said was behind at least 13 of last year’s slayings. Thirteen of the killings occurred in the Third Precinct, which includes Brentwood.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini stressed in an interview that the hamlet ended the year with what he described as “dramatic” crime decreases in other categories.

In Brentwood last year, violent crime fell 30.8 percent and property crime was down 27 percent, drops largely attributed to a gang crackdown after the beating deaths of two teenage girls by MS-13 gang members.

Seven people, all suspected gang members, were taken into federal custody as a result of the investigation. Police have not publicly revealed the identities of those individuals and whether they’re suspected of committing any of the six MS-13 gang killings in Brentwood last year. The seventh arrest was announced by Suffolk police Thursday.

Sini, completing the end of his first official year as commissioner, said there was “no question” that more suspected gang members would be charged federally as the investigation progresses. He declined to provide further specifics about the probe.

Suffolk’s crime numbers mirror drops in crime recorded by police departments across the region — including the NYPD, also experiencing historic crime lows — as law enforcement has increasingly honed technology, analyzed data and used predictive analysis to prevent crime.

Compared with a decade ago, Suffolk crime statistics for 2016 show homicides are down 8.1 percent, robberies dropped 47.2 percent and aggravated assaults fell 32.9 percent from 2006.

Overall crime dropped 27.1 percent from 2006 to last year.

Sini also credited the numbers to the department’s push to execute more search warrants and take an increased number of illegal guns off the street.

“We had a real focus on precision policing,” Sini said. “We had top priority folks in each precinct identified. We had top priority people identified also countywide. And we put a lot of resources into targeting those individuals, whether it’s the narco angle, the firearm angle, gang angle.”

Sini created the Firearm Suppression Team, or FAST, in 2016, crediting it with an increase in illegal-gun seizures, with 507 weapons recovered last year, according to department statistics. By comparison, 336 illegal guns were recovered in 2015 and 280 in 2014.

In addition, the number of search warrants executed by cops was up 118.2 percent in 2016, from 88 in 2015 to 192 last year, according to records.

Sini said 30 percent of the department’s narcotics search warrants last year resulted in the seizure of illegal firearms and 400 arrests.

Old-fashioned police work — culling information from suspects and informants alike, coupled with targeted patrols in known hot spots — also made the difference, Sini said.

“As a result of gathering all that intelligence, we knew where to put assets, and I think that’s really the reason why we saw crime reductions here,” Sini said. “Partnering with the community is a huge part of our success.”

County Executive Steve Bellone attributed the crime decreases to “effective leadership, innovation and community engagement” put in place by Sini and the rest of the department’s top officials.

“What it demonstrates to me is what kind of impact you can have with really effective leadership and innovation being brought to bear in a department like this,” Bellone said.

“It’s all related to the focus on the data and looking at it and being able to ask questions and be able to ask questions off of that data, why are certain things happening and digging deeper and deeper and deeper and that’s what they’ve been doing.”

On the precinct level, some crime categories increased in 2016. In the Second Precinct in Huntington, for example, commercial burglaries were up 39.2 percent, from 51 in 2015 to 71 in 2016, the statistics show.

Sini attributed that burglary jump, which he referred to as a “modest increase,” to a few patterns, and stressed that when the total number of crimes is so low, just a few additional instances can cause a significant percentage increase.

The department also made a dent in car crashes in 2016, which officials stressed are a more likely danger to Suffolk residents than being the victim of a crime.

Crashes decreased by 2.5 percent and fatal motor vehicle crashes fell by 29.9 percent, from 134 in 2015 to 94 in 2016. The drop was the result of several initiatives, Sini said, including more traffic enforcement.

Suffolk police wrote 11.7 percent more traffic summonses in 2016 compared with 2015.

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