The federal government is giving Suffolk County $500,000 for its fight against the MS-13 street gang — money that will pay for targeted police patrols, and school and community intervention programs, officials announced Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Justice is awarding the Suffolk County Police Department the grant through Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative aimed at stemming gang and gun violence.
The funding comes nearly six months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Central Islip amid a spate of gang killings in Suffolk. Since 2016, 17 people have been killed at the hands of MS-13, police said. Suffolk police say they have made more than 265 arrests of more than 190 MS-13 gang members since last September.
“Let me be clear — Project Safe Neighborhoods is not just one policy idea among many,” Sessions said in a statement. “This is the centerpiece of our crime-reduction strategy. Taking what we have learned since the program began in 2001, we have updated it and enhanced it, emphasizing the role of our U.S. attorneys, the promise of new technologies, and above all, partnership with local communities.
“With these changes, I believe that this program will be more effective than ever and help us fulfill our mission to make America safer.”
President Donald Trump, who has blamed gang violence and other crime on illegal immigration, came to Brentwood in July and described some Long Island towns as “bloodstained killing fields” that are “under siege” and need to be liberated from MS-13.
Six of this year’s Suffolk homicides were allegedly committed by MS-13 members, and police have made arrests, including federal indictments in the killings of four young men in April in a Central Islip park, police said.
The funding that was announced Thursday will be used for “hot spot” policing in such communities as Wyandanch, North Amityville, Central Islip, Brentwood and Huntington Station, officials said. Suffolk police have estimated there are some 400 MS-13 gang members in the county.
The grant appears to be the largest ever awarded to the department for gang-fighting efforts, said Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers.
The grant was awarded to a total of 14 jurisdictions across the country, including Suffolk, and ranged in amount from $200,000 to $500,000, said DOJ spokesman Ian Prior.
The Suffolk money will also be used to pay for mentoring and truancy programs to provide an alternative to gangs, including the Brentwood Youth Recovery Initiative.
The initiative began after the September 2016 killings of Brentwood students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16 — allegedly at the hands of MS-13 members.
Police Commissioner Timothy Sini requested federal funding for Suffolk during Sessions’ visit in late April.
Sini, in an interview Thursday, proclaimed: “This is a good day.”
“Oftentimes, people wonder, ‘Does government ever react? Does government ever deliver?’ ” said Sini, a Democrat who is running for district attorney. “I spoke to the attorney general, I spoke to the president. . . . This is an example of them listening and them delivering.”
Sini said the department is “already transferring additional police officers to this effort as a result of this grant,” though he said he was unsure of the timetable of the funding disbursement. Another 28 officers will be transferred to special squads, such as gang, precinct crime and community support, he said.
“If we don’t provide the support, MS-13 will,” Sini said of officers’ intervention efforts in schools.