Suffolk police will rejoin a federal anti-gang task force less than a year after withdrawing from the unit, officials said Monday.
The department will also team with State Police and U.S. Marshals to patrol an area plagued by deadly shootings, police said. The moves come a week after the killings of three men in a Central Islip neighborhood less than two days apart. Law enforcement sources said two of the shootings may have been the work of MS-13 gang members.
Chief James Burke said Monday two detectives would be placed back on the federal task force. Last August, three officers were removed from it because, Suffolk police said, fighting gangs on the precinct level would be more effective. County Executive Steve Bellone in January 2012 said the same thing when he announced that he was disbanding the police department's own centralized gang unit and returning those officers to the precincts.
In a statement last night through his spokeswoman, Bellone said he supported the police department's efforts.
"They have made fighting gang violence a top priority by promoting community and intelligence-led policing," according to the statement. "I am proud of the work our police do each and every day to make our streets and communities safer."
Monday, Burke said it was prudent to rejoin the task force.
"We want to show the public that we are doing everything possible . . . the federal toolbox is more effective than the state."
Burke did not say when the two detectives would rejoin the team or who they are.
Two of the detectives removed from the task force had been credited with solving some of the most brutal gang homicide cases in the county.
The teaming up with State Police and U.S. Marshals is in response to last week's shootings that claimed the lives of Derrick Mayes and Keenan Russell, both 21, and Matthew Gilmore, 25, Burke said. He refused to discuss the shootings because they are ongoing homicide cases.
Law enforcement sources have said the killings of Mayes and Russell have similarities to shootings that took place in the Central Islip area in 2009 and 2010, when gang activity terrorized the community. Some of those shootings targeted perceived rival gang members, but others claimed innocent victims.
The third fatal shooting is not believed to be the work of gang-members. The assignment of new detectives would cost upward of $100,000 for each to pass federal security clearances that could take six months.
"This is about saving lives," Burke said. "The cost, I'm sure, will be through the federal government. Cost is not a factor here."
One law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity cautioned that the federal government has had to deal with funding issues of its own and paying for two new security clearance checks is "not going to happen again. It's just not going to happen. He may have to absorb the cost."
Burke said that rejoining the task force should not be viewed as an admission that leaving last summer was a mistake.
"Those decisions were made as a result of our intelligence-led policing model," Burke said.
He said the department will evaluate its staffing on the task force, which includes the FBI, Nassau police, Nassau sheriffs, and the Hempstead Village Police Department.
"We may look at it down the road and we may add people, we may take people away," Burke said. "We do it constantly in every area, even within the police department."
The timing and the sudden removal of the detectives from the task force last year shocked law enforcement sources and relatives of crime victims whose cases had been solved after being deemed unsolvable.
Between April 2010 and August 2012, two of the detectives helped arrest 27 gang members linked to 12 homicides, more than 20 assaults and more than a dozen robberies.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), whose district covers Central Islip, said Sunday he has been in touch with Burke, Det. Lt. James Hickey, commanding officer of the department's criminal intelligence section, and others in the department but would not comment further.
When asked if he would push to allocate more federal funding to cover the cost of putting new detectives on the task force, King said, "We'll have to wait and see what happens."