Fueled by gang violence, the number of homicides in Suffolk County has risen significantly this year, police statistics show.
There have been 34 slayings in Suffolk this year to date, compared with 25 in all of 2015 — a 36 percent increase. This year’s homicide total is the most in at least five years, records show.
In Nassau, there have been 20 reported killings this year — down from 24 a year ago, according to the statistics.
This year’s Long Island homicides follow a familiar pattern. Most stem from gang disputes, domestic violence and illicit drugs, authorities said.
Thirteen of the Suffolk homicides in 2016 have been gang-related, police said.
Eleven have been linked to MS-13, a notoriously brutal gang with ties to El Salvador. In 2015, 10 Suffolk slayings were gang-related, but only two were tied to MS-13.
The epicenter of the most recent violence has been Brentwood, where eight homicides have been reported this year, compared with just one in 2015 in what authorities have said is an increase in MS-13 gang activity in the area. Other killings occurred in Bay Shore, Huntington Station, Central Islip, North Amityville and Wyandanch.
In an aggressive response to the gang violence, Suffolk Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said more than 70 gang members have recently been arrested on state charges. Another six are in federal custody.
Cameron said the department’s emphasis on intelligence-gathering helped investigators identify the gang members. He also credited the work of a federal gang task force and Suffolk’s new 15-member Firearms Suppression Team, which patrols communities and investigates gun-related offenses.
“Since we started that strategy, the MS-13 activity in Brentwood has decreased significantly,” Cameron said in an interview. “The strategy has been pretty successful.”
Police say Suffolk’s gang violence problem was exacerbated by a controversial push to relocate unaccompanied minors who illegally entered the United States. Suffolk ranked third for counties nationally in the number of unaccompanied children released to relatives or other sponsors this year through the end of June, according to statistics.
“A significant number of the MS-13 gang members are unaccompanied children,” Cameron said.
Heightened gang activity in Brentwood, combined with the police department’s 2012 withdrawal from the federal Long Island Gang Task Force under former Chief James Burke — who pleaded guilty to beating a heroin addict who stole a duffel bag from his SUV and orchestrating a cover-up — contributed to the spike in Suffolk homicides, said Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD sergeant.
Suffolk has since rejoined the task force under new Police Commissioner Timothy Sini.
Nassau was able to decrease its homicide numbers in part because it cracked down on violent epicenters such as Hempstead in the wake of the gang-related killing of 12-year-old Dejah Joyner in the village in late 2015, Giacalone said.
Suffolk is replicating those efforts with its Brentwood crackdown, but Giacalone cautioned: “Once you go into an area in Brentwood, you have to make sure you don’t just push it to a new area.”
Last month, Sini promoted Deputy Inspector Milagros Soto, a Spanish-speaking officer, to second-in-command in Bay Shore’s Second Precinct, which polices the Brentwood area and is home to one of county’s largest Hispanic populations.
That community was rocked in September by news that two teenage girls — best friends and classmates Nisa Mickens, 16 and Kayla Cuevas, 15 — had been beaten to death. The killings led to the discovery of a dumping ground for MS-13 victims.
The remains of three other teenagers — Oscar Acosta, 19; Miguel García-Morán, 15; and Jose Peña-Hernandez, 18 — were found later in wooded areas in and around the grounds of the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, as police cracked down on known gang members.
On Oct. 13, Dewann A.S. Stacks, 34, was fatally beaten in a suspected gang attack as he walked down a street in Brentwood. Police have not said publicly whether any of the gang members in federal custody are suspects in the Brentwood slayings.
That contrasts sharply with Nassau, where police only attribute one homicide this year to gang violence: the Sept. 12 shooting of 15-year-old Joshua Guzman in Hempstead. No arrests have been made.
Eight of the Nassau homicides were in the area policed by the Hempstead Police Department; three homicides each occurred in Uniondale and Roosevelt, the statistics show.
Nassau Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, commanding officer of the department’s Intelligence Unit, said many of the killings in 2016 were a result of domestic disputes. At least two cases were murder-attempted suicides.
On Oct. 30, Warren Marc Drucker, 67, stabbed his wife, Wendy Ginsberg Drucker, 61, more than 30 times in the neck and upper part of her body in the couple’s East Norwich apartment, police said. And on Nov. 4, Robert Crumb fatally stabbed his wife and injured his teenage daughter inside their Bethpage home, before leading police on a high-speed chase that ended in a fiery crash at a Brooklyn gas station.
“Homicides are hard to police because sometimes they’re out of passion. . . . . We try to remove bad elements,” Ryder said. “You can’t police homicides; you don’t know when somebody’s going to kill somebody. But you do know when there’s an increase between fighting with the Bloods and the Crips.”
Suffolk and Nassau police have taken hundreds of illegal guns off the streets this year, with Sini starting the FAST team, which prompted Sini to start a second team to help with the workload.
Eleven of Nassau’s homicides were due to gun violence, while others were due to a variety of causes, including strangulation and blunt-force trauma, police said.
So far this year, the department has solved 14 of its 20 homicides, a clearance rate of 70 percent — higher than the FBI’s national clearance rate of 64 percent.
To date in 2016, Suffolk has solved 16 of its 34 homicides — a 47 percent clearance rate.
Thirteen of Suffolk’s homicides were the result of shootings, down from 17 in 2015.
“We’ve been very, very proactive in trying to remove illegal guns from the streets,” Cameron said.
Another 7 killings were stabbings, with 11 more caused by blunt-force trauma, the statistics show.
Long Island homicides
Source: police statistics