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LI gangs behind stubborn streak of violent crime as police try to combat them

Nassau County crime scene detectives along with homicide

Nassau County crime scene detectives along with homicide detectives at a scene on Belmont Parkway in Hempstead on Tuesday, May 6,2014. Credit: Jim Staubitser

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

Crips and Bloods continue to operate lucrative drug operations in a handful of lower-income Nassau and Suffolk neighborhoods, carrying out gang-related shootings even as violent crime has largely disappeared in many parts of Long Island, according to public records and police officials.

Investigators say they have identified roughly 2,700 Bloods and Crips members on the Island over the past decade -- mostly in small sections within the Hempstead, Freeport and Uniondale areas of Nassau County and parts of Central Islip, Brentwood and Huntington Station in Suffolk County.

Long Island's continuing gang problem -- now more than two decades old -- resurfaced last month after gunmen carried out a spate of shootings in both counties. While no arrests have been made in the killings, officials suspect they may be gang-related.

In the wake of those homicides -- three in Hempstead and one in Central Islip -- police said they were focusing on the Crips, Bloods, MS-13 and other local gangs likeliest to commit violent crimes during the warm-weather months, when shootings typically spike.

"When it comes to those gangs, we're no different from the rest of the world," Suffolk Police Chief of Detectives William Madigan said of the Crips and Bloods. "Suppression of gang violence is the top priority."

Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, head of the Nassau police department's intelligence section, said a small number of violent gangsters are responsible for much of the county's gun and drug violence.

Many local Bloods and Crips are active in heroin, cocaine and marijuana trafficking, which leads to territorial feuds and other disagreements between the rival groups -- as well as MS-13 and unaffiliated residents, police say.

The Crips, Bloods and MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, have some of the most violent members on Long Island, police say. The transnational street gang, which federal officials have identified as a national security threat, includes members from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. They have been blamed for a rash of violent crimes that include shootings, machete slayings and robberies.

Among the estimated 2,700 Crips and Bloods on Long Island tracked by police in recent years are hundreds who have been sent to prison, are no longer active, or have stopped committing violent acts for fear of re-incarceration, police say.

For active gang members, armed robberies and car thefts can be reliable sources of income, police say. And the gangs' initiation rituals, involving the savage beatings of new members or the shooting of rivals, are closely tracked by investigators.


Gang shootings a concern

While no statistics were available on the specific number of crimes gang members committed in recent years, officials say gang members or their affiliates are responsible for many of the shootings in both counties.

In Nassau, these crimes are committed mostly in the so-called corridor communities of Hempstead, Roosevelt, Westbury, Uniondale and Freeport, through which a majority of the county's firearms and drugs are trafficked, police say.

"With the Bloods and Crips, there might be 30 sets of them, some with 10 to 15 guys or more," said Ryder. "Of those, there's a small percentage who cause damage. And those are the guys we are going after every day. Ten percent of the people are committing 90 percent of the crime."

In Suffolk, the Bloods and Crips are also major targets for police investigators, who track their criminal activities, changes in their hierarchies and territorial shifts.

"The Bloods have a leadership structure, and the Crips have a very similar leadership structure," said Det. Sgt. Michael McDowell of the Suffolk police department's criminal intelligence bureau. "What we mostly see [from the gangs] here is a mix of narcotics and some street robberies."

Crime statistics from both counties demonstrate how violence continues to plague lower-income areas even as overall, Islandwide crime totals plunge to historic lows.

The number of recorded violent crimes -- including shootings, robberies and assaults -- fell to a record low of 2,101 in Nassau last year, according to statistics compiled by New York State. Most of those crimes occurred in those corridor communities, where median income levels are lower than in Long Island's more affluent communities, records show.

In Suffolk, recorded violent crimes fell to 1,914 last year -- also a new low, according to state records. Many of the most violent acts were concentrated in parts of Central Islip, Brentwood and surrounding neighborhoods.

"It's not just empty rhetoric when we call this a tale of two Long Islands," said anti-gang activist Jerrod Carpenter of Hempstead, who helped mediate a 2012 gang war between Bloods and Crips there. "The Bloods, Crips, MS-13 and these other gangs are active in the lower-income areas, so when we talk about crime being at record lows, it's a little misleading. Because for the folks in these areas, the danger is very real."

Three people were fatally shot in Hempstead Village last month alone, including a 16-year old boy whose death may be drug-related and linked to the Bloods, police sources said. The two other May killings in the village -- which has its own police force but relies on Nassau police to investigate homicides and certain gang cases -- may be linked to a drug deal gone bad between an MS-13 marijuana dealer and a gang known as the Haitian Mafia, sources said.

In Suffolk County, a 31-year-old man was shot to death in a possible gang-involved dispute on Memorial Day in Central Islip.

Still, police say, violence in gang-plagued communities would be far worse if not for their intelligence-led policing strategies and intensive anti-gang efforts.

Both county police departments use predictive analysis -- the digital dissection of police data to identify likely offenses, their locations and even perpetrators -- to fight criminal groups including Crips and Bloods. They also conduct aggressive plainclothes gang operations -- a strategy that garnered attention last month when Nassau temporarily reassigned about 45 plainclothes officers, including 12 from the Gang Abatement Program.


Allocating officers

Nassau police say they are throwing enough resources at the gang problem, including officers from the bureau of special operations and gang unit, to keep crime down. They are also part of an Islandwide federal gang task force.

As an example of successful anti-gang casework, police point to an operation that dealt a major blow to the Crips last year. Nassau investigators, with the help of the FBI, arrested more than a dozen members of the notoriously violent "Rollin' 60s" set in April.

But even as one gang grows weaker or dissembles, police said, another often appears. In Roosevelt, for example, a new gang known as the "Rose Block Bloods" recently formed, leading police to scrutinize the probation status of its members.

"When a gang starts to emerge," said Ryder, "we're all over them."

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: Jerrod Carpenter. 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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