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Suffolk County sheriff's office partners with El Salvador to fight MS-13

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon at a news

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon at a news conference in April. Toulon on Thursday announced that the county will partner with the El Salvadoran government to "share resources and really work on a network combatting gang violence here in Suffolk County." Credit: Barry Sloan

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with authorities in El Salvador to combat MS-13 and other street gangs, Sheriff Errol Toulon announced Thursday at his agency’s 12th annual gang seminar.

“We’re happy to announce today that we are going to have a partnership with the El Salvadoran government where we can share information, we will share resources and really work on a network combating gang violence here in Suffolk County,” Toulon said during a news conference at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge, where hundreds of law-enforcement officials from the Northeast gathered for the seminar.

Suffolk County Undersheriff Kevin Catalina, the head of the agency’s gang unit, said the office hopes to hire liaison officers who will work directly with authorities in El Salvador, where much of MS-13's leadership is based.

Toulon said the sheriff’s office has historically gathered most of its gang intelligence from inmates incarcerated in the correctional facilities it operates in Yaphank and Riverhead. The partnership with Salvadoran officials, he said, will give the agency a much greater reach.

“Now we will be able to have a direct link to the El Salvadoran government, El Salvadoran police department, El Salvadoran public safety,” Toulon said. “We’ll be able to share information and resources on a quicker basis.”

Toulon, who succeeded Vincent DeMarco as sheriff in January, said the partnership grew out of a trip he took in April to El Salvador to discuss strategies to combat MS-13 with Salvadoran law-enforcement officials. During that trip, he met gang expert Rodrigo Avila, a member of El Salvador’s National Assembly and the former chief of that country’s national police department.

“One of the things that is totally clear is that there is a connection between what is going on in El Salvador and here,” said Avila, who later discussed the evolution of MS-13 in Central America during the seminar’s keynote speech. “There is a connection between the jails in El Salvador and the guys in the streets, both in El Salvador and the United States.”

MS-13 has been tied to dozens of murders in Nassau and Suffolk counties in recent years.

Avila said it is likely that gang members are among the thousands of Central Americans traveling through southern Mexico en route to the United States in a caravan that originated in Honduras.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Trump administration is planning to dispatch at least 800 active duty troops to the southern border to assist the Border Patrol as the caravan heads north.

“When you have such a human movement, anybody could join that caravan,” Avila said. “You have no control." 

Toulon and Avila said the partnership will help officials in Suffolk County solve past crimes and prevent future crimes.

“Safer streets, safer neighborhoods,” Avila said.

“Not only safer streets,” Toulon added. “We’re able to gather information and intelligence that we can give to all our law-enforcement partners to help solve or prevent crime.”

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