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Suffolk gets millions in federal funds for crime-fighting, officials say

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart discuss the Department of Justice grants in Hauppauge on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

The federal government has awarded grants totaling nearly $4 million to the Suffolk County Police Department for its fight against the MS-13 street gang and human trafficking and the installation of a streamlined computer records system, county officials said.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Monday the three Department of Justice grants bring the amount of federal government funding received by the department this year to $10.3 million — surpassing the $7.5 million of 2017. Hart said the department, which still has some pending federal grant applications, could bring in as much as $12 million for police department initiatives before the year ends.

The police department's gang intervention efforts, targeting youth susceptible to gang recruitment with after-school and mentoring programs — namely unaccompanied minors, the recent influx of Central American immigrants who crossed the border illegally without an adult and were placed with sponsors across the country, including on Long Island — will see an influx of $1 million. Some of the victims and perpetrators in the spate of suspected MS-13-connected killings on Long Island since 2016 have been unaccompanied minors.

“We’ll have the opportunity now to kind of reintroduce ourselves," said Hart, who said the department will work with local nonprofits to provide the programming. "If there’s a void to fill, we would like to fill it versus the gangs, right, because we know that when they come over here, and the support is not what it should be, sometimes these kids get caught up in gang activity.”

Another $696,000 in DOJ funding for the department's newly established human trafficking unit — the first of its kind on Long Island — will help pay for social services, such as drug treatment, counseling and job training for victims. Hart said the department will work with victim advocacy group Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island to provide services.

And $2.1 million of the funds is dedicated to complying with a federally mandated overhaul of the police department's records management system, which includes tracking crime statistics.

The DOJ has mandated that departments nationwide switch from using the Uniform Crime Reports, or UCR, and begin using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. 

The funding will help pay for the other 18 law enforcement agencies in Suffolk to begin using the system, which Hart said will increase efficiency and provide more detailed crime trend analysis. 

"It’s really an opportunity now for us to get a better vision of the crime issue and how we can deal with it with our assets here on Long Island," she said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, whose proposed $3.11 billion operating budget for 2019 raises police district taxes 3.5 percent, said the grants would allow the police department to use creative crime-fighting methods despite tight budgetary times.

“What you end up doing, I think, and what you’re trying to accomplish is utilizing grants to innovate in maybe ways that you can’t in a tough budget environment," he said. "But those grants can allow you to push the environment a little bit and do some of the innovation you’d like to see that can have a positive impact on public safety.”

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