The head of the Nassau County Police Department’s gang investigations squad discussed the dangers of gangs across Long Island during a meeting with community members in Uniondale on Friday. But the only people missing were gang members themselves.
“We’re preaching to the choir,” said E. Reginald Pope, president of the National Action Network’s Nassau County chapter, which organized the meeting. “The people that we’re trying to reach don’t even show up.”
Det. Sgt. Mike Marino, speaking to about 15 people Friday night, said he tries to help people leave the streets but it’s very difficult. There are about 25 identified gangs in Nassau County, as well as an additional 45 subsets. The gangs include the Bloods, Crips, MS-13 and the Latin Kings.
While many used to be split along racial lines and neighborhoods, that’s not necessarily the case anymore, Marino said.
“They’re like equal opportunity employers,” he said.
The sergeant stressed the importance of keeping kids in school. He estimated that fewer than 1 percent of gang members graduate from college, and only about 10 percent graduate from high school. Truancy can be an indicator of gang affiliation, though many gangs recruit from middle schools — particularly in the hours after dismissal.
Annette Dennis, treasurer for the Nassau chapter of the National Action Network, said even though gang members have little formal education, they’re intelligent enough to run high-level drug businesses.
“We need to engage their minds,” she said.
Pope said he hopes the renovated Nassau Coliseum could offer employment to young Long Islanders looking to stay off the streets.
Hempstead police launched a new uniformed gang task force last month, citing a “resurgence” of gang activity in the village, particularly from MS-13, the 18th Street gang and a new group, Latin Pride. Marino’s squad works closely with the three Hempstead gang officers.
The village’s new unit “looks like it’s going to be great,” he said.
Marino said the gangs’ use of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter has sometimes led to arrests. He showed the group an MS-13 video from Westbury — full of expletives, gang tattoos, No. 13 jerseys and blue bandanas — which appeared on MySpace and led to solving a murder case.
“We find out so much information from social media,” he said. “They figure the police are stupid.”
Pope said on Saturday he’s working to get federal aid and additional resources to combat the gang problem in Nassau County, particularly in Hempstead Village.