In the fight against gangs, "likes" are out, tweets and 'grams are in.
Suffolk County police officers and community leaders in Brentwood and Central Islip say youths have turned to Instagram and Twitter to brag about their gang exploits since parents have "invaded" Facebook, a site that is now less popular among the younger set.
At a forum last week at the Brentwood Public Library, the officials gave tips to a group of about a dozen parents and educators on the latest trends that young gang members employ and also law enforcement's efforts to identify and stem gang activity and violence that has been ever-present in their neighborhoods.
Officer George Lynagh of the department's Community Response Bureau showed a slide presentation that he gives to schoolchildren in the county -- the youngest being 10-year-olds in the fifth grade -- to educate them on the dangers of gang life before they get the chance to be recruited, which he says sometimes begins as early as age 12.
Lynagh is often asked to make the presentation to schools in the Third Precinct -- where gang activity is most prevalent in neighborhoods such as Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore -- but often has to strip criminals' names off cases he mentions for fear of a younger relative sitting in the classroom.
"You don't know if you have someone's cousin sitting there," Lynagh said.
Sgt. Kevin Baumgardner, of the Suffolk police anti-gang unit, said MS-13, Bloods and Crips are the most common gangs his officers come into contact with in the Third Precinct. Peer pressure among youth is often the driving force that nets new members, he said.
Assaults -- including gun and knife violence and fistfights -- graffiti, thefts of cellphones, and drug dealing are all crimes committed by gang members, and Baumgardner said those continue to be chronic problems in those communities.
At the forum, local clergy stressed the importance of strong family ties and close supervision by parents, but Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who organized the event, recognized that teachers may be the only form of positive adult influence some children may have. Martinez, speaking to educators from the Brentwood Union Free School District who attended, stressed the need for teachers to continue to step up beyond their normal job duties. Martinez taught and was an administrator in the district for 14 years.
"Sometimes school is the only family they may have," Martinez said. "The teacher may be the only parent they may have and so it's very difficult for educators, aside from all the testings we have to abide by, but now we also have to care for that child that may not be cared for at home."