Suffolk County DA announces initiative to take on gangs

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini announced an initiative last week to focus on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by gang members, such as members of MS-13.

“The new unit will be laser-focused on prosecuting gang members, partnering with every single law enforcement agency on Long Island and helping to lead the fight against MS-13 and other violent street gangs here in Suffolk County,” said Mr. Sini, who began his new role in January after previously serving as commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department.

The Gang Unit will be within the DA office’s Enhanced Prosecution Bureau and lead by acting deputy bureau chief Kate Wagner. It is made up of eight assistant district attorneys, including acting deputy bureau chief Leslie Anderson, who helped form the unit and will ensure the ADAs are up-to-date on gang prosecution strategies, as well as focus on community outreach and gang prevention efforts.

Investigations divisions chief Megan O’Donnell and enhanced prosecution bureau chief Christiana McSloy will oversee the unit, which will have an ADA on-call 24 hours a day. The unit also includes six detective investigators.

The initiative will also include bi-weekly meetings with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“Collectively, these law enforcement agencies have stood tall on the front lines of our fight against gangs here in Suffolk County,” Mr. Sini said. “Unfortunately, for far too long, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office did not provide the leadership necessary to bring that fight to the next level.”

This will allow local police departments to share intelligence, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said.

“I think that’s so important,” Chief Hegermiller said. “East End towns all have their own police departments and we have village departments out here, so we all keep our own information. Putting that somewhere where it’s communal, where someone has access to it or someone’s coordinating it is a great step toward fighting gangs.”

Under one unit, law enforcement can link whatever connections there are between information that different departments gather, he said. Along with the Gang Unit, Mr. Sini announced a new partnership between the DA’s office and Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to offer a reward of up to $5,000 to members of the public who provide information that leads to the arrest of gang members.

“We don’t see everything, so if there is something out there that we should know about, people should contact the police department,” Chief Hegermiller said.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley called it a concerted effort to get law enforcement at all levels, whether it be federal, state or local, to work together against gang members.

The unit wants any type of arrest by listed gang members to be referred to them, Chief Flatley said.

“It’s nice that they’re making that effort to take that seriously, of gang members involved in any kind of criminal activity out here,” he said. “It’s a big commitment on their part.”

Photo caption: Suffolk DA Timothy Sini outlines the plan at a press conference Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

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