Suffolk Officials Try to Allay Fears of State Police in Local Schools

Amid community concerns, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini tried to ease tensions over New York State Police involvement in local anti-gang initiatives. (Long Island Wins photo/Pat Young)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone spoke with the representatives of community groups Thursday to respond to concerns raised by the recently announced plan to involve New York State Police in anti-gang work in Suffolk schools.

Bellone told the group that “ending gang violence cannot be accomplished through law enforcement alone.” He called the enforcement-only approach “a failed strategy.”

He added that the county “must have a long-term strategy for building a community of support for our kids.” In line with that promise, Bellone’s top aide, Jon Kaiman, said that the county was working on plans to create a resource center for young people in the Brentwood-Central Islip area. He also described a plan to make it easier for immigrant families to access resources in the county.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini also described the efforts of the police to counter gang violence.

“We have made over 300 MS-13-related arrests and solved eight murders by members of MS,” he told the representative of 30 community groups. “We are working with the schools to identify at-risk children and provide [them] with mentors.”

As part of the anti-gang campaign, Sini said that there was now a “partnership between state police and county police to work with educators.”

Kaiman acknowledged that the initial announcement that state troopers would be active in anti-gang activities in the schools had led to heightened concerns among immigrant parents.

“We understand that there were miscommunications about the troopers coming into our schools,” he said.

When members of the audience questioned the officials about the role of the state troopers in the schools, there was some concern that the program is not fully sketched out and lacks adequate protections for immigrant students.

There were also questions about what the state troopers added to the existing school outreach efforts of the Suffolk police, who already seem to have adequate resources for presentations to teachers and students.

There was also concern among community representatives that the state troopers—who have almost no contact with the immigrant community in Suffolk—were not equipped to try to build trust with young immigrants in the schools. The county executive noted that the state troopers would receive the same training as Suffolk police outreach staff, but that again also raised the question of what the state police brought to the table.

Irma Solis, director of the Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, asked for information about the criteria that police gave for identifying gang members during presentations to educators.

Solis was told that that could not be shared with her. Others questioned what Memorandums of Understanding the county had with schools and the state police governing their behavior. It seemed from the answers that there is no formal framework for the state police involvement.

Steve Bellone said at the end of the session that “it is my responsibility to make sure that the resources the state is providing are connected both to the schools and the local community.”

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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