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State sets aside $20M for Brentwood community center, MS-13 fight

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo greets supporters at the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo greets supporters at the Brentwood Recreation Center on Monday, where he spoke about a new hub for the youth community. Credit: James Carbone

The state has set aside $20 million to help Suffolk County build a community center in Brentwood and pay for initiatives aimed at impeding MS-13’s gang recruitment, officials said Monday at a news conference in Brentwood.

The money, contained in the state’s capital and 2018-19 budgets, also will fund several programs, including job training and apprenticeship for at-risk youngsters, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at the Brentwood Recreational Center.

The community center will bring all social services under one roof, officials said, and provide year-round recreational activities and educational opportunities for at-risk youths.

“If we don’t reach out and connect with these young people now, at 14, 15 years old, you lose them,” Cuomo told local politicians, law enforcement officials and community leaders who gathered in Brentwood for the announcement. “And, you don’t lose them for a little bit of time. You lose them for the rest of their lives.”

The governor’s visit marked the second time in nearly six months he has come to Brentwood to announce that he and lawmakers have set aside money in the state’s multibillion budget to address gang violence.

MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, has been linked to about two dozen murders on Long Island since 2016. Dozens more have been identified as gang members by law enforcement authorities and have been detained for deportation.

The brutal nature of some of the killings — by attackers armed with machetes and baseball bats — have drawn the attention of President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump, who came to Brentwood twice, has seized on the gang's violence to serve as a symbol of the risks of illegal immigration.

The state funding includes:

  • $15 million for a community center.
  • $2.5 million for the installation of up to 100 surveillance cameras in local parks throughout Suffolk County. Of that, $500,000 will pay for 225 new lights, patrol, and up to 10 new surveillance cameras in Brentwood State Park.
  • $1 million for an apprenticeship program to connect youths with job training and employment.
  • $1 million for 25 additional surveillance cameras for Suffolk County police, bringing the total to 51.
  • $500,000  for mental health initiatives in schools.

A committee, co-chaired by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Town of Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter, will decide the site for the new community center. 

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), who for years had been asking the state for funds, said it took a spate of killings in his district in the last few years to bring attention to the community’s needs.

“As you know, we fall by the wayside many times when it comes to the pie being divvied up,” Ramos said. “But, I think this crisis, this situation, brought so much focus, so much attention to it, that it forced the hands of government to respond and heed my call.”

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