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Gun seizures soar on LI

Nassau County Police along with the Nassau County

Nassau County Police along with the Nassau County District Attorney's office held a gun buyback program. Credit: Jim Staubitser

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

Police on Long Island are seizing a soaring number of guns linked to criminal investigations as a result of aggressive tactics and the creation of special teams carrying out undercover operations.

This year, Nassau cops recovered 345 guns from Jan. 1 to June 4 -- the last date for which the department released recovery data -- compared with 135 during the same period last year, a rise of 155 percent, according to records of the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services. Suffolk police recovered 229 guns from Jan. 1 to July 1 -- the last date for which they released such data -- compared with 130 during that same period last year, a 76 percent increase.

"There's no question that the increase in guns being taken off the streets is preventing additional violent crimes," said Nassau Police Chief of Department Steven Syrnecki.


More 'fish in the water'

Even with increased gun seizures, more guns are being brandished, used or concealed during crimes in Nassau, records show. The number of violent crimes committed in which a gun was involved rose from 87 to 106 between Jan. 1 and June 27, the latest records show. In Suffolk, those crimes fell, from 167 to 164, between Jan. 1 and June 21 -- the most recently tracked period.

Violent crimes that do not involve guns decreased in both counties, the state records show. From Jan. 1 to June 27, a total of 561 violent crimes were recorded in Nassau County compared with 641 over the same period last year -- a 12 percent decrease. In Suffolk County, the number of violent crimes fell 15 percent, from 723 to 614, through June 21.

"The fact that they recovered more guns and that the percentage of crimes [involving guns is increasing] shows that there are actually more guns out there than there were before," said Eli Silverman, Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "It's a matter of there being a lot more fish in the water."


Stepped-up tactics

If gun seizures continue at the same pace in both counties, the numbers would set a record. The highest number of guns seized by police in Nassau in a year was 710 in 2009; in Suffolk, the highest total was 422 that same year, the records show.

Authorities say reasons for the surge in gun recoveries include: more arrests of armed drug dealers and gang members; better-advertised and more successful gun buybacks following the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn.; and because weak gun laws in other states appear to have led to more guns arriving in the region in recent years.

Specialized policing teams -- such as the Suffolk County District Attorney's Firearms Suppression Team -- have also helped drive up gun recovery numbers, authorities say. Staffed by investigators assigned to the district attorney's office, the team routinely carries out sting operations and undercover gun buys.

"Our county has the most active and aggressive gun team in the country," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said after the team broke up a Georgia-to-Suffolk drug trafficking ring in April.

Police in both counties recently added specialized intelligence units -- The Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team in Nassau and Field Intelligence Officers in Suffolk -- which have taken numerous illegal guns off the streets.

"There's been a significant increase in the number of guns recovered and that's saved lives," said Suffolk Chief of Detectives William Madigan. "Finding those guns is our highest priority."


Guns without borders

Illegal guns flowing in from outside New York have been a serious problem on Long Island and in New York City for decades. The influx has continued despite repeated efforts by elected officials at the local and federal level, including a campaign by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to draw attention to the issue.

From 2010 through 2012, 26,377 guns were recovered by authorities statewide as part of criminal investigations, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In 2010, the latest year for which the ATF provided regional recovery figures, law enforcement on Long Island recovered 744 guns linked to criminal investigations. The agency was able to trace 299 of them to the states where they were first sold. The ATF found that 78 came from within New York State, and the remainder from elsewhere. Top source states included Florida (39), Virginia (37) and North Carolina (22).

Nassau municipalities are frequently among the top "recovery cities" statewide for guns. In Hempstead in 2012, more guns were recovered than in all but four cities in the state, records show.

In the Village of Hempstead, 115 illegal guns were seized in 2012, while 112 illegal guns were recovered in Freeport, according to ATF data. Those totals ranked fifth and sixth among municipalities statewide, behind New York City, Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse.

In 2011, Uniondale ranked sixth with 100 recoveries, records show, while Yaphank in Suffolk County ranked tenth with 53 recoveries.

"Every one of those guns could represent a life saved or a shooting that was prevented," said Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, commanding officer of the Nassau police asset forfeiture and intelligence unit, which regularly seizes illegal guns brought to Long Island from other states.

Residents in neighborhoods with high gun-recovery rates said they are pleased with the increase in recoveries, but say too many illegal guns remain.

"I moved to Long Island [from Brooklyn] to get away from guns, to get away from violence, but you still hear gunshots almost every night and you still see people with guns out there," said William Blaine, 37, of Freeport. "It's good that at least they're taking away more guns from the bad guys now, but all it takes is one bullet to destroy a life."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: William Blaine. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records,

social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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