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State Senate to pass anti-gang bill Monday, majority leader says

Suffolk County police at the Pilgrim Phychiatric Center

Suffolk County police at the Pilgrim Phychiatric Center in Brentwood on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, where they searched for more remains in a wooded area which police believe are gang related homicides. Photo Credit: James Carbone

ALBANY — As local law enforcement struggles with the explosion of gang violence on Long Island, the State Senate intends to pass a series of “anti-gang” measures Monday that include creating stronger felonies for gang activity and recruitment of members, according to Majority Leader John Flanagan.

A new bill will mandate “enhanced” sentences — that is, tougher and potentially longer prison terms — for felonies committed during gang activity, and load up an array of new felonies. It would create a “gang prevention” curriculum to be available for schools and a “Criminal Street Gang Prevention Fund” to help subsidize nonprofit organizations working on gang deterrence.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislative package Monday afternoon.

The Republican-led Senate has approved different elements of its anti-gang legislation previously, but the measures haven’t won adoption in the Democrat-led Assembly, which has put more emphasis on education and prevention.

“Neighborhoods that have been particularly hard hit by gang violence on Long Island and . . . communities across the state need better resources to help eliminate gangs and the victimization of those in their wake,” Flanagan (R-Northport) said. He said the bill takes a comprehensive approach by “preventing vulnerable young people from being recruited by gangs and strengthening our laws to break up violent and dangerous gang activity.”

Assemb. Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) sponsored the comprehensive bill that includes provisions for toughening penalties but his bill has sat in the Assembly Codes Committee since February.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assemb. Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said Sunday the Senate’s bill will be reviewed but likely would be negotiated with other bills in the final weeks of the regular legislative session in June.

The Senate push comes just weeks after a quadruple homicide in Central Islip linked to MS-13 sparked fear within immigrant communities, as well as attention from the Trump administration. Recently, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to Islip to meet with the parents of two of the victims and local law-enforcement agencies, promising to “demolish” MS-13.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also recently announced he would deploy 25 state troopers in Suffolk County specifically to help local police investigate gang violence. Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately comment on the Senate bill.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, called the bill “sound legislation that is sorely needed.” He said Spota backs the idea of “creating legislation to go after the financial proceeds of a street gang,” as well as enhancing penalties and increasing programs to “help kids resist the pressure to join gangs, especially at the middle school level.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, in a statement Sunday night, said of the bill: “The Suffolk County Police will continue to do everything in our power to eradicate gangs from our communities and we welcome any new tools that will help us achieve that mission.”

Last week, Nassau authorities announced the arrest of two brothers who are also MS-13 members in connection with two alleged machete attacks in Westbury. Newsday previously reported that experts say the recent eruption of violence on Long Island represents a new and more deadly profile of MS-13 — a violent gang that originated in California and continued to grow out of El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s.

The office of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas is reviewing the legislation, a spokesman said.

Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter voiced his support, saying: “The enactment and passage of this bill should assist all law enforcement in policing these illegal street gangs. Several components of this bill will allow us to protect the young in our communities with key components such as the implementation of anti-gang curriculum in schools.”

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), would define “criminal street gang” in the state penal statutes for the first time, according to Flanagan’s office. Among other elements, the definition covers “an association . . . of two or more individuals identified by a common name, sign, dress, symbols, tattoos, or other mark or markings.”

It creates several new felonies centered on gang recruitment, especially recruitment of minors. Local law enforcement officials have said MS-13 gang members are getting younger and that they are unfazed by the barbaric level of violence expected of them.

Another new felony would be “participation in criminal street gang activity.” The bill also calls for raising the degree of felony and toughening penalties if a crime is committed in connection with gang activity. Any “A-1” felony would carry a minimum 20-year sentence.

Backers say the increased violence related to MS-13 along with gangs in other areas of the state “demonstrates the need for a more comprehensive method of tackling gangs.”

— Nicole Fuller

Highlights of the legislation

Citing the increase of violence related to MS-13, a violent street gang, and others in New York, the State Senate says it will pass a “comprehensive” anti-gang package of legislation Monday at the State Capitol. Here are some of the key aspects:

  • Defines, for the first time, criminal street gangs for purposes of state penal statutes. It covers association of two or more individuals “identified by a common name, sign, dress, symbols, tattoos, or other mark or markings.”
  • Creates seven new felonies, including accepting the benefits and proceeds of gang activities and solicitation of minors for participation in a gang.
  • Mandates that the minimum sentence for an A1 felony (the top felony count in NY) committed in connection with gang activity would be 20 years.
  • Allows for the implementation of anti-gang curriculum in schools and creation of a “Criminal Street Gang Prevention Fund” to support deterrence and violence-prevention services offered by nonprofit organizations.

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