BRENTWOOD, N.Y. >> Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo traveled to this community in Suffolk County today to announce the creation of an anti-gang policing initiative to combat MS-13, the brutal transnational gang that he called “a current scourge” on the area.
“They are a network that has created horrendous crimes,” said Cuomo, a Democrat, who was joined by state and local leaders and several state troopers at a State Police barracks in Brentwood. “Their currency is fear and intimidation, and they are getting more outrageous and more obnoxious in their activities.”
Most recently, the gang has been implicated in the murders of four young men whose bodies were discovered on the edge of a town park in neighboring Central Islip this month.
As part of the statewide initiative, the State Police will increase undercover and uniformed operations in the area, adding 25 officers to the efforts of the local police and an FBI task force to battle the gang, which has its roots in Central America. Officials said residents of Brentwood and Central Islip should expect to see a larger State Police presence in the area.
The violence in the area — MS-13 was blamed for 11 murders last year in Suffolk County, including those of two teenage girls who were brutally pummeled with machetes and baseball bats near a Brentwood elementary school in September — has drawn national attention, and Cuomo said the continued violence committed by MS-13 had prompted him to act.
The governor’s initiative came two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to visit the area to discuss gang violence. President Donald Trump has said the threat raised by gangs justifies his administration’s tough proposals on immigration. Amid discussions of the federal budget, Trump said Sunday on Twitter that his proposed wall along the Mexican border would “stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members.”
Cuomo distanced his actions from those of the Trump administration. “We’ve been talking about this for the past couple weeks,” he said. “I can’t speak to what the attorney general is doing.”
In Suffolk County, law enforcement officials have expressed concern that the emphasis on deportations will drive witnesses and informants underground.
“That is a problem we have all across the board,” Cuomo said. “It’s gotten worse recently.” He reiterated that the State Police do not participate in immigration enforcement or control.
Cuomo said that members of the gang, which is also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, were “thugs who prey on young people and recruit young people, often unaccompanied children from Central America, and they seduce them into a life of gang violence.”
The Long Island Gang Task Force that some of the state officers will join includes about 30 agents, detectives and officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
More than a dozen suspected gang members were arrested in a recent sweep by the task force after the killings. The authorities said that at least 10 of those arrested were undocumented immigrants.