More cops, more outreach, more communication and more school programs to target at-risk youth.
Those were the main steps to combat the influence of street gangs that Southold Town police, elected leaders and school administrators touted at an informational meeting held Thursday night — about two months after a gang shooting left three injured in Southold.
Police Chief Martin Flatley moderated the roughly 90-minute meeting and detailed some initiatives the police department had taken in response to the Oct. 14 shooting on South Harbor Road.
Chief Flatley said eight newly-hired police officers will patrol the town and an additional officer will be assigned to Greenport Village. One of those officers is from Ecuador and speaks Spanish fluently. Chief Flatley said he believes that officer can help build stronger ties with minorities in town.
“We definitely plan on using him as a liaison to the Spanish-speaking community down in Greenport,” Chief Flatley said.
He added he has continued to meet with East End police chiefs to discuss how to tackle gang activity. Those discussions have led to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office adding another investigator to the East End Drugs Task Force, Chief Flatley said. That new member will gather more intelligence on possible gang drug dealing operations in the area, he said.
Chief Flatley also said his department plans to meet with local community groups.
Greenport Mayor David Nyce said he believes the police department’s response to the shooting was quick and appropriate. He also praised the police and schools for thinking of ways to prevent future gangs.
“These problems didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “They’re not going to be solved overnight.”
The schools will also play a role in the anti-gang efforts, said David Gamberg, who serves as superintendent for both Greenport and Southold school districts.
Mr. Gamberg said he has reached out to Riverhead School District administrators to learn about their Council for Unity program, which encourages students to make good decisions in and out of school.
The Greenport School District is also creating a pilot program in grades 7-8 called Gang Resistance Education and Training, or GREAT, a Department of Justice initiative to prevent students from joining gangs early, Mr. Gamberg said.
Those steps are the beginning of a larger effort to establish relations between the police department and the Hispanic community, many of whom come from a culture in which police are corrupt and aren’t trusted, police officials said Thursday.
About 100 people attended the meeting at the Peconic Community Center, including school board members and Greenport Village trustees. The informational forum featured a presentation on street gangs and how to recognize them by Sgt. Steven Lundquist, an investigator with the Gang Intelligence Unit of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Lundquist said the main gangs on the North Fork are the Bloods, MS-13 and the 18th Street gang. Though fewer gang members claim to live on the North Fork compared to areas in western Suffolk County or Nassau County, Sgt. Lundquist said gang members are “transient,” and may come to the North Fork to tour the area, set up criminal enterprises or lay low and avoid police.
The meeting itself was civil, with some residents focusing on the issue of graffiti, gang related or otherwise. Police said all graffiti should be reported to police.
Others asked what more could be done to stop gangs from spreading throughout the town. In response to a comment from the audience that Greenport schools should hire employees who speak Spanish, Mr. Gamberg said the district has several and plans to take select students to a leadership conference so “they can be part of the solution.”
Not all audience members were satisfied with the responses from police and school officials.
One resident, Dorothy Catapano, said she lives down the street from where the shooting occurred. She asked what kind of suspicious activity she should be looking for on her farm’s property.
Police Chief Flatley said residents should report anything suspicious to police, but Ms. Catapano later said she was still unsure of what “suspicious” meant.
“‘See something, say something,'” she said to reporters after the meeting. “But what am I looking for?”
During a question-and-answer session in the meeting, Chief Flatley was asked where the Guardian Angels, a private community watch group, fit into the official plans for action.
“They’re not under my control,” Chief Flatley said, adding he believes the hiring of eight new police officers adequately addresses patrolling needs.
But he did say he hoped the group would share any information it receives about gang activity with police.
The organization’s founder and CEO, Curtis Sliwa, said the organization will make weekly patrols around the area.
Benjamin Garcia, a Guardian Angels patrol director, told reporters “everyone has their own opinion,” and said his group will continue to patrol the area.
He then spoke with Ms. Catapano and offered her a flier, suggesting the Guardian Angels could patrol near her property or that she could start a Southold chapter.