Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa Offers Plan To Rein In MS-13; Reacts To County Exec's Solutions
With brutal MS-13 crimes sweeping Long Island and officials calling the scourge a public safety crisis, Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, revealed a new plan he's developed, showing authorities how to "rein in MS-13."
After the gruesome discovery of four bodies in Central Islip on Long Island — the four young men are believed to have been victims of the deadly MS-13 street gang — the spotlight is on Suffolk County as lawmakers, educators and a horrified public try to shine a light on MS-13 and seek answers on how to stem the tide of escalating violence.
Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels, a non-profit volunteer safety patrol organization whose members are known for their trademark red berets, outlined MS-13's migration to Long Island in a previous Patch article.
And now, he's got a proposal on how to crack down on the deadly gang. Here's the first in an two part story on Patch, outlining Sliwa's plan.
"Law enforcement is a dollar short and day late"
"MS-13's growth and continued strength on Long Island is based on the fact that law enforcement is a dollar short and a day late in infiltrating them, gathering intelligence about their operations and cutting them off from their mother ship connections, which is the pipeline that they maintain between their countries of origin —El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras," Sliwa said.
He added that he believes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is best equipped to deal with MS-13.
"But local officials and local law enforcement have a tenuous relationship with ICE. The elected officials protect their sanctuary status as a town, village or county and discourage a strong working relationship with ICE. This just strengthens MS-13, because local law enforcement is not working with ICE as they should be to eradicate MS-13. Most MS-13 members wear their tats, aka tattoos, openly," he said. "They are not hard to spot and to separate from the general immigrant population. The local officials talk a good war game against MS-13 but they box ICE out every chance that they get."
In order to attack the problem, Sliwa believes authorities must isolate MS-13 wherever they exist.
"When they are locked up they cannot be mixed into the general population in the jails, where they just recruit and grow stronger. MS-13 is now into its second generation. Some of its members are no longer just made up of illegals. They have some who were now born here. Their kids are going to the nearby public schools and recruiting there."
To that end, Sliwa said a four-part, multi-pronged approach must be considered. In the first segment of this post, he examines law enforcement and jails. In the second, to follow, he'll address public schools and the criminal justice system.
Sliwa took local officials to task in unveiling his plan.
"Every time there is another crime scene involving MS-13 in Suffolk County, and there have been many of late, there is always a police press conference that follows, that talks about how local, county, state and federal law enforcement are working together. That just is not so."
According to Sliwa, years ago when MS-13 was first growing in prominence in Nassau and Suffolk Counties there was a FBI Long Island Gang Task Force.
Sliwa questioned why Bellone removed three Suffolk County police detectives from the federal Long Island Gang Task Force in 2012, soon after taking office.
"Why would he do that, since the feds had for more information and resources to track the movement of MS-13 back and forth from the border of Mexico to Long Island? Suffolk County decided to go it alone and attack the growth of MS-13 from their precinct levels. What a major tactical blunder, which benefited MS-13. They lost connection with a lot of vital intelligence on MS-13 and have been playing catch-up ever since."
Although Suffolk County rejoined the federal Long Island Gang Task Force in 2013, Sliwa says they are "half steppers when dealing with the feds" and must collaborate with ICE and Homeland Security to effectively stem the tide of MS-13 violence.
In addition, Sliwa said Suffolk County, as well as Brentwood and Central Islip "have functioned as sanctuary locations for their illegal populations. When arrests are made the cops are not permitted to ask the status of the suspect. Their co-operation with ICE is limited. Any yet ICE has far better information on the movements of Ms-13 back and forth across the border. If you are going to 'go to war' against MS-13 then ICE must play a major role in the crackdown. They cannot continue to be kept on the periphery."
In December, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco took a different stance on the sanctuary issue and said he would no longer ask for a judge’s order before detaining immigrant charged with crimes and wanted for deportation by the feds.
Next, Sliwa responded to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll be meeting with county officials to see how the state can offer resources to combat MS-13.
"That is not how the state should be responding to this public safety emergency. There should be an immediate mobilization of resource and New York State Troopers — now. Law enforcement cooperation is not what the local officials pretend it to be," he said.
In addition, Sliwa believes there must be a concerted effort to recruit and train residents who are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to become local and county police officers.
"If I am from any of these three countries and join the U.S. military, it earns me a path to citizenship. It should be the same for the police. Just having Spanish speaking police officers will not give you total access to this Central American community," Sliwa said.
Props for Riverhead
Sliwa lauded Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean M. Walter and the Riverhead Town Police Department, who "have proven to me over time to have the best local take and grip on the MS-13 problem. If gang graffiti goes up the town takes it right down. The beat cops seem to have better control of their MS-13 members than other towns that I have been involved in."
Jailing MS-13 — and a look at Plum Island
Sliwa believes a shift must be made in the way MS-13 gang members are jailed.
"When MS-13 members are locked up or detained often, they do a stint in the Nassau or Suffolk County jails. This is a mistake. Because once inside they begin to recruit amongst the general population. They must be separated and segregated. Increasingly on the federal level, they are being shipped to the eastern district lockup in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where they are becoming the gang that is controlling some of the tiers."
Instead, Sliwa offered an alternative.
"Since we all agree that there is an all out war against MS-13, then we need to establish a local form of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, or GTMO. MS-13 have qualified themselves as our nation's most dangerous group of foreign influenced domestic terrorists."
Sliwa suggested isolating them at the farthest reach of the North Fork.
"Plum Island is the place that should be converted to a correctional facility that detains MS-13 gang member," he said.
For months, Rep. Lee Zeldin has been fighting to save Plum Island and stop its sale to the highest bidder.
The Southold Town board adopted the new zoning unanimously in August, 2013 to protect Plum Island. Southold's zoning plan for the island calls for a 125-acre Plum Island research district, which would comprise 20 percent of the island, and a 350-acre Plum Island conservation district, that would make up the remaining 80 percent, which would be a natural preserve.
The goal is to create some kind of research facility that could possibly keep the 400 year-round jobs that currently exist on Plum Island in town.
Sliwa believes Plum Island is the ideal place to isolate MS-13 gang members. "It would achieve the purpose of giving access to the MS-13 members to their lawyers and families. MS-13 members could be transported to their court appointments from Plum Island."
When asked about Sliwa's suggestion, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell answered, "It's a preposterous idea that's not worthy of a response."
Or, Sliwa said, Cuomo could be helpful in providing an alternative site of housing for MS-13. "The state has closed 13 prisons recently. They have sold three of them. The other 10 could be made available. I would suggest the former Mount McGregor Correctional Facility, in Saratoga County, which has many cells that are still usable, especially for solitary confinement."
No matter where it was sited, Sliwa said a separate correctional facility just for MS-13 members could be very helpful in conducting behavioral modification of its members. "It could reward snitching on other MS-13 members with better housing and accommodations for those that do. It would give the corrections officials a chance to divide and conquer MS-13, which normally hides in the shadows."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also laid out a plan this week to tackle and weaken the emerging MS-13 threat and eradicate the criminal organization from the county, following the brutal murders of the four teenagers in Central Islip on Long Island.
The proposals outlined would include working together with the federal government to establish a notification process to inform a local government and school district when an unaccompanied minor is placed in a community, a release said.
“We understand that to win this war, it will take a coordinated approach between all layers of government and the community, said Bellone. “These actions are intended to undermine MS-13 efforts to recruit and victimize the most vulnerable children in the community.”
The federal Unaccompanied Minor Program has been in existence in a variety of forms for decades; the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement established uniform national standards regarding the detention, release and treatment of all children in the custody of the federal government, Bellone said.
Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement are the agencies responsible for administering the Settlement Agreement pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
Once an unaccompanied minor is released from ORR’s care and placed with a designated sponsor there is virtually no follow-up to ensure the safety and well-being of that child, Bellone said.
Further, a release added, it is unclear which federal government agency is responsible for ensuring the safety of the child once he or she is placed with their sponsor or for ensuring their compliance with the signed ORR agreement. This poses an inherent danger since there is no way currently to ensure these children have not been corrupted by MS-13 or harmed by them, Bellone said.
In a prior Patch article, Rep. Peter King, R-Seaford, agreed that a federal program that allows unaccompanied minors to cross the border is a critical issue; he said he's had extensive conversations with Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini — and of the MS-13 arrests made, more than 50 to 70 percent were unaccompanied minors, King said. There are more than 4,000 unaccompanied minors in Suffolk County, King told Patch.
Unaccompanied minors who come to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, are placed with families "that have been threatened by MS-13 or paid by MS-13," King said. It's believed, King said, "that MS-13 is gaming or using the system" to get young people placed with Suffolk County families and subsequently, bolster MS-13 ranks.
HHS, he said, "is not a law enforcement organization," and therefore, there is "a question of how extensive their investigation is or how equipped they are to do an investigation."
King said there is definite pressure for kids to join gangs, with the threat of violence for those who won't join.
"Police have told me that kids who don't join get beat up pretty badly, there's definite pressure — a definite risk of being killed," he said.
Bellone's proposed measures would establish clearer guidance and provide additional support to Suffolk County and for localities across the country. Those measures include making federal funds available to local law enforcement agencies that are combatting MS-13, providing gang prevention funding and local resources to communities where the federal government is placing children so that the obligation is not borne solely by local taxpayers, ensuring that a process is in place that prevents individuals with gang ties from being placed in the community, and establishing a notification procedure from the federal government to local governments and school districts where children are being placed.
"While the vast majority of unaccompanied minors are law-abiding individuals reuniting with family members who have successfully transitioned into the community, there are indications that MS-13 has sought to exploit the program for the purposes of recruiting and victimizing children," Bellone said, adding that one effective strategy to undermine MS-13 would be to adopt comprehensive immigration reform to fix a broken immigration system, securing borders and providing a pathway to citizenship for law abiding individuals.
Sliwa reacts to Bellone's plan
The Guardian Angel founder reacted to Bellone's plan Tuesday.
"Now, all of a sudden Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is asking for the federal government to more closely vet immigrant teens who come into the country as unaccompanied minors and to notify local agencies of their arrival. And he wants resources from the feds for law enforcement and to support gang prevention. All of these requests are good things. But this comes from the same county executive who, when taking over for Steve Levy, took a 'we are going alone' policy in dealing with MS-13. By not working with the feds local law enforcement was cut off from desperately needed updated federal intelligence on the movements of MS-13 across the borders and into Suffolk County," Sliwa said.
In addition, Sliwa charged, Bellone "embraced the status of being a sanctuary county and didn't act troubled by the movement of close to 1,000 unaccompanied minors into Suffolk County. Now he acts like he's had an epiphany and is trying to make up for lost time in combating the growth of MS-13."
He added, "If, in fact, Bellone is trying to play catch up, he needs to bring ICE and Homeland Security to the table. That would send out a clear signal that there is once again a united federal and local joint effort in the 'so called' war against MS-13. If Bellone is finally admitting that his 'go it alone' strategy against MS-13 has failed then he needs to bring ICE and Homeland Security out of the shadows."