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Editorial: Attack Long Island gangs locally and regionally

MS-13 gang graffiti in Bay Shore.

MS-13 gang graffiti in Bay Shore. Photo Credit: James Carbone, 2010

Last August, three Suffolk police detectives who had helped solve some of the county's thorniest gang homicides were taken off of the federal Long Island Gang Task Force.

The move, eight months into the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone, created an uproar not only among some legislators and community leaders, but even, quietly, among police officers. Police officials said the change was made to decentralize anti-gang work, returning the emphasis to combating this kind of organized crime community by community. Now, in the wake of deadly shootings in Central Islip last week, two Suffolk police detectives will be assigned to that task force.

The department also dissolved its own centralized gang unit once Bellone took office. But now a group of detectives will be assigned to the Organized Crime Bureau to target gang members in and around Central Islip, and patrols there will be increased.

These changes make the last round of changes look like a mistake. Police brass deny that, saying they regularly adjust strategies to adapt to new circumstances. They also said part of their job is to deal with public perceptions and suppress fears, which these new moves back to old methods are also designed to achieve.

It's a false choice to argue that anti-gang work must be done either at the community level or regionally, with the national and international reach of a federal task force. These crimes should be combated on all fronts. They need to be attacked with a neighborhood-based strategy that also ranges far afield. Suffolk has a well-equipped 2,400-member police force and little serious crime. The crimes that are serious, like the gang activity plaguing a few communities, should get all the attention and resources necessary to control them, so that the killers can be brought to justice, and the killing to a halt.


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