Promising to put an end to a spate of deadly shootings and stabbings, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy Monday night faced Brentwood and Central Islip residents terrified and angered by the violence that has torn through their communities.
Levy stood at the front of about 300 people at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood. With a wireless microphone and PowerPoint presentation, he outlined steps the county is taking to fight the gangs and the violence.
"We're not stopping until this problem is solved," Levy said to applause from the crowd.
The gathering was the third forum on the issue, and the first attended by the county's top official.
Some of Levy's constituents have criticized him - loudly and publicly - for not attending two meetings on the issue hosted by Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano last month.
Levy, who sent his chief deputy to one of the gatherings, has said he was not consulted on the dates.
Yesterday, Central Islip Coalition president Debbie Cavanagh challenged Levy once again on his absence at those meetings.
"We rearranged our schedules to be here. So should you," she told the county executive. "We expect you to make us your number one priority, not the gubernatorial race."
Repeating an earlier statement from his opening remarks Levy told Cavanagh: "That's history. Now we're moving forward."
He pledged to attend another public forum to be hosted next week by the Brentwood school district, and said the county will meet monthly with local civic groups and community leaders and continue soliciting feedback.
Nine of the county's 33 homicides last year occurred in Central Islip and Brentwood. Since January, the two neighboring communities have seen five more. The FBI has responded with an increase in agents assigned to gang hot spots in Suffolk County.
In his 40-minute presentation, Levy described the Suffolk police department's strategy, which includes added patrols in Brentwood and Central Islip and daily checkpoints in high traffic areas of four gang hot spots, including Wyandanch and Huntington Station.
Eliciting a murmur of agreement from the audience, he said the county's strategy includes eradicating the graffiti that blankets fences, homes and businesses here.
Addressing Levy, a representative from a new Brentwood civic group, Brentwood Residents Against Violence Everyday, displayed photos of 10 homes marked by graffiti and invited the audience to participate in its first "Wipe Out Graffiti Day" on May 1. The group, which counts among its outspoken members the mother of a 15-year-old killed in November, has organized neighborhood watch training sessions.
"You show us where [graffiti] is, we'll get it done," Levy said.
Another speaker, Sandra Gil, a Brentwood mother of two teenage girls, said "as a Latina, I urge you to be please be sensitive about us people who look like I look. Please, let's see these officers looking like we do . . . so we don't feel intimidated and can open our mouths and say loud and clear 'Please help me.' "
Levy told Gil the police department is teaching officers Spanish and denying promotions to officers who generate constant complaints.
With Denise Bonilla