Suffolk County Gang Unit Vows to Fight MS-13

By Harrison Grubb and Nick Faria

President Donald Trump called them “animals.”  Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “They must be stopped.”  As details of gruesome murders continue to ring through Long Island, and law enforcement continues to crack down, the El Salvadoran group known as MS-13 continues to grow in national notoriety.  With the ongoing threat facing Long Island, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini has created a gang task team to combat the crisis.

Long Island Impact

In the wake of more than two dozen MS-13 slayings on Long Island in the last two years, the Suffolk County’s DA office announced a team of prosecutors and investigators devoted to fighting the issue.

Sini told reporters the new team allows a “centralized depot for gang crimes that was lacking under the previous regime.”  Before being elected in 2017, the DA said he heard many Suffolk residents complain about the lack of prosecution the county had to combat gang violence.

According to Newsday, the task force will be comprised of 14 members and led by prosecutor Christina McSloy, who worked with the Nassau gang prosecution team in the past.

Part of the task force also includes charging alleged gang members for non-gang related crimes.  Sini said this part of the initiative “allows us to make sure that no one’s slipping through the cracks.”

According to information gathered by the Center for Immigration Studies, there have been 43 arrests since 2012.

Ryan Miller, a Ronkonkoma native, said the issue of MS-13 is “a huge one on the island, especially in Suffolk County.” A frequent traveler to and from New York City on the Long Island Railroad, Miller says it can be frightening when taking a train to eastern Long Island during the early morning hours.  “One time I had to take a train from the city at around 2:30 in the morning, and that late they make you get off the train in Brentwood and take buses to Ronkonkoma,” he said. “Trying to navigate Brentwood train station alone at that hour wasn’t fun.”

“Gang Task forces seem to be more susceptible to corruption.”

While Miller and many Suffolk residents support the idea of having a gang task team to prosecute possible gang members, some caution that it could run inefficiently.  Craig Burnett, a political science professor at Hofstra University, cautions that similar task forces in the past were not successful in accomplishing their goals. “Gang task forces seem to be more susceptible to corruption, ” Burnett said.

We reached out to Suffolk County Police Department but did not receive a statement on how they believe the task force will run.

National Impact

Burnett also says that despite the national spotlight being cast on MS-13 and other gangs, he does not think Trump’s rhetoric has direct correlation with this new task force.

According to information gathered by the FBI from 2008, MS-13 operates in 42 states and has thousands of members.  

States impacted by gang activity. Data: Center for Immigration Studies

The Center for Immigration Studies also provides data of the number of MS-13 members arrested from each state.

Nationwide MS-13 arrest. Source: Center for Immigration Studies

While Burnett argues that Trump’s anti-illegal immigration rhetoric did not have a direct impact on Tim Sini’s gang initiative, the number of MS-13 members arrested under the Trump Administration has significantly risen.

The president brought more attention to the ongoing issue by showcasing Long Island families that have been impacted by MS-13 during his first State of the Union Address.  Trump pushed his anti-illegal immigration agenda by inviting two families from Brentwood whose daughters were brutally murdered by the gang several years ago.  The emotional moment captured the true impact that this gang has taken on some in the community.