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Plan to fight gangs with troopers needs buy-in from schools

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Suffolk County

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at Central Islip High School on Sept. 13, 2017. Cuomo announced a plan to send state troopers into 10 Long Island high schools to fight violent gangs. Credit: James Carbone

Done properly, sending New York State troopers to help combat gang violence in schools where it’s a problem is worthwhile. But doing it properly means getting buy-in from the schools themselves. It means putting experts on gangs together with people who know these individual communities to develop programs and curricula that might vary from place to place. It means communicating with stakeholders, like parents and teachers and students, about why the troopers are coming and how they can help, so students aren’t scared by the troopers and the parents aren’t scared into thinking schools are gang war zones.

This is what happened. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo held a news conference at Central Islip High School on Sept. 13, one year after the slayings of Brentwood teenagers Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, by MS-13 members. He named 10 schools that would soon have state troopers in buildings. Cuomo also called them the schools with the “highest incidence” of gang-related activity in the region.

Leaders of some of the schools later said the news conference was the first they had heard of the plan to assign troopers to their buildings. Some of the schools don’t have gang problems, a fact the Cuomo administration has now acknowledged in a letter to the Longwood junior and senior high schools. Longwood educators were furious at the implication, and Longwood parents were scared.

At least one school district Cuomo named says it might not participate. At least one more says it can’t yet decide whether to participate, because there is no curriculum, plan or timeline.

There really is a gang problem in parts of Suffolk County, and recruitment for those gangs largely centers in the schools. That’s been true for decades, and it goes far beyond the relatively small but extremely vicious MS-13 chapters. A well-thought-out infusion of state help, troopers included, that works with school resource officers and provides what local educators, cops and communities need, is a great idea. Hopefully, that can materialize and continue even after the spotlight of the violence fades.

But making an inaccurate announcement that took the schools and communities by surprise was a bad idea, and it’s not surprising that it backfired. Try again.— The editorial board