A newly promoted Suffolk police deputy inspector — fluent in Spanish — is joining the command staff of the precinct at the epicenter of six unsolved gang killings in Brentwood, with an eye toward using her language skills to build better relationships with the community.
Deputy Insp. Milagros Soto, a 28-year department veteran, began Monday as the second in command of the Third Precinct in Bay Shore, making her the department’s highest-ranking Spanish-speaking officer, officials said.
Soto, in an interview Monday afternoon, said besides decreasing crime in the department’s busiest patrol command, she wants to concentrate on “community building,” particularly with Spanish-speaking residents who may be hesitant to contact police to report crimes.
“I take it as a tremendous honor to be selected to go to the Third Precinct,” Soto, 53, said. “I know that’s one of the precincts that has one of the largest Hispanic communities and I look forward to the opportunity to engage with that community and ease any concerns that they may have. In this climate, I think it’s very important to reach out to the community, have their support.”
Suffolk police Commissioner Timothy Sini said he promoted Soto and selected her to help lead the approximately 300-employee precinct — working alongside Insp. Robert Waring, the commanding officer — because of her varied skills as an investigator and supervisor. Her Spanish language skills, the commissioner said, were also a huge asset.
“She’s going to be a leader in the community,” Sini said. “I really view this as the beginning of an opportunity for the inspector to really lead that community, really engage with the public, engage with the different community groups, with the individuals who come to the meetings, engage with the people on the street, and get a real pulse on the community.”
Soto, previously a captain in the Internal Affairs Bureau, comes to the leadership post as the department grapples with a gang crisis in Brentwood — the bodies of six people killed by gangs have been found in recent months — and as it has sought to allay concerns among Hispanic residents after a police sergeant was convicted of robbing cash from drivers during traffic stops.
Though violent crime overall in the area covering the Third Precinct is down 12.7 percent through September this year from a year earlier, homicides are markedly up — from two in 2015 to 11, including the six gang slayings, this year.
Soto’s promotion also comes as the department has sought to diversity its ranks and under a Department of Justice consent decree is required to hire 10 percent of Spanish speakers from the civil service test. In the most recent police academy class, there are 29 recruits of Hispanic background and 18 fluent Spanish speakers, according to department statistics.
Soto assumes the position previously held by Deputy Insp. William J. Doherty, who moves to the Police Technology Bureau, which Sini called the “future” of the department.
Soto, a native of the Lower East Side, entered the Suffolk police academy in 1988, working patrol for several years, mostly in the area covering Smithtown and Commack.
Soto, whose two brothers and a niece are retired NYPD officers, said joining the Suffolk police was “the best decision I ever made in my life.”
She then worked as a supervisor in the Sixth Precinct in Coram and in the department’s 911 call center.
In 2010, she went to Internal Affairs as an investigator and three years later was promoted to lieutenant. Soto was one of the chief Internal Affairs investigators who looked into former Sgt. Scott Greene, who was convicted earlier this year of shaking down Hispanic drivers for cash.
“I think it sent a clear message that we take complaints very seriously,” Soto said. “We investigate them thoroughly and where the evidence leads us, that’s where we go.”
She made a brief detour to the Sixth Precinct’s Crime Section, working as the commanding officer in July 2015, but went back to Internal Affairs in January of this year.
As she assumes the role of deputy commanding officer, Soto said while she may be the face of the department to some in the community, she stressed that she’s part of a team.
“As long as there’s open dialogue and trust, I think that absolutely is what’s going to make things go in a positive direction,” she said.