Is SCPD Playing Politics By Leaving FBI’s LI Gang Task Force?

Turf War
SCPD Chief of Department James Burke

One need only peruse the many press releases of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI announcing bust after bust of MS-13 members and crews, or a few of the reams of court documents associated with the massive government caseload to get a hint of just how instrumental SCPD’s inclusion in the task force has been.

If convicted, each defendant now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Six face mandatory life in prison, or possibly the death penalty—unique under federal charges in New York, since the state no longer has capital punishment.

What’s astounding to sources familiar with anti-gang force efforts is the sheer volume of cases cleared by the three detectives working with the other task force members that had been deemed “unsolvable” by the Suffolk homicide squad and Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.

Some were two, three and four years old, says a source, and numbered about a dozen homicides, 20 or so assaults including guns and stabbings, more than a dozen robberies—and some of the guns seized include machine guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

The three detectives assigned to the task force were known throughout the department for being “top investigators and aggressive,” says a source, adding “when the rank and file observed what has happened to the caliber of these detectives they can only come to one conclusion that the motivation of the move was political.”

“This is a turf war,” slams another source. “This is all about the DA’s Office… They will tell you how cooperative they are and what they are doing with the federal government. Everybody’s hugging and kissing and everybody is having a wonderful life. Not true.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the FBI and Suffolk police bumped heads. The New York Post reported ex-Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer resisted the FBI’s help in the Gilgo murder case. The chilly relations on those cold cases reportedly thawed after Webber took over this year—or so it seemed.

That Suffolk’s withdrawal might be over a turf war between the SCPD, district attorney’s office and feds doesn’t shock Montano, the former prosecutor, either.

“These turf battles are not uncommon,” he tells the Press. “They’re counter-productive, but they’re not uncommon. This has to be nipped in the bud. These turf issues have to be put aside.

“I’m not interested in who’s slighted,” he continues. “I’m interested in eradicating a gang problem that’s been persistent in Long Island, that’s been growing and seems to be abating—maybe not gang activity, but certainly the gang killings and the gang shootings have abated. And I don’t want to see it return to that because of a turf battle.”

He demands it end, immediately, stressing that there’s just too much at risk for officials to be worried about “bruised egos.” After being informed by the Press of the retreat, Montano called the police commissioner’s office to tell police brass as much.

What Montano is surprised about, however, is the secrecy surrounding the move, remarking how most of the previous day’s legislative session concerned the police’s union contract, yet no one ever mentioned anything about the split to him, nor other members of the legislative body.

“I’m surprised that we were not as a legislature [informed]—particularly myself, who represents one of the hotspot areas, remember we had the Speak Out, where we had a number of gang killings, we put the ShotSpotter in there—so for them not to consult with us,” he says. “I can’t imagine why they would make a unilateral decision without consulting with the legislature.”

Adding insult to injury, sources say, the SCPD detectives removed from the federal task force came from elite units within the department, yet the trio wasn’t sent back, instead, they were reassigned to general service.

Veteran law enforcement sources with knowledge of the situation remain dumbfounded.

“Over the years I have seen detectives and task force officers, and even agents—I have seen people punished for non-performance routinely,” says one. “This is the first time in my career where I have seen two guys punished for exceptional performance.”

“Normally police departments are fighting to get their detectives involved in these federally funded task forces because there are so many benefits,” adds another. “I have never experienced it where a department says, ‘No, the hell with this, we don’t want to participate with you to clean up murders.’”

“Seems like they would rather have some of these cases remain open,” says yet another.

Besides the loss of federal monies that could go toward better protecting the public, law enforcement sources tell the Press Suffolk has a whole lot more to lose, with a much heftier price tag than, say, bullet-proof vests for officers.

“It is going to cost lots,” says a source. “Honestly, there are cases that are not going to be cleared, which mean people that are involved in those cases are not going to be picked up, and some of these kids are serial killers. [If they’re not taken off the streets] they are going to go out and murder again.”

Whether the SCPD will return their detectives to the task force remains an open question. One certainty, however, is that there will be plenty more work to do.