Despite the fact that the Guardian Angels have already stepped off patrols in Greenport, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said the red-beret-wearing volunteer crime fighters won’t be invited to patrol local streets.
“I think that our department members and our partners in Suffolk County are in a better position to give a factual account of the gang activity in Southold Town than Guardian Angels members. And no, I will not be inviting the Guardian Angels to patrol Southold,” Flatley told SoutholdLOCAL this week.
As for Flatley’s statements, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa responded, “We don’t need an invitation to patrol Southold from the police chief, but it would help, especially since in 2005, when then-Mayor Kapell of Greenport invited us in to deal with an open air drug dealing problem, we helped the police with it, and according to all, including some initial critics, we did a pretty good job. I think that might merit some reconsideration on his part. You don’t have to invite us, but if we’re there, then there should be a way that the Southold police are permitted to work with us.”
Flatley added, “I do think there is definitely a concern about our gang activity, especially if it propels to the seriousness of the shooting that we experienced.”
To that end, Flatley has scheduled a public gang awareness meeting for the Southold Town Recreation Center on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. Originally scheduled for December 4, Flatley said the meeting was set for a new date to allow for two critical meetings of local law enforcements officials, including a gang roundtable.
Responding to Flatley’s statements on Friday, Sliwa said he felt local law enforcement and the Guardian Angels could work hand in hand. “There is no doubt that those police from Southold, partnered up with the Suffolk County police, who are in charge of local gang intelligence, are better able to give local updates on gang activity — as long as they are forthcoming. In the past when I have attended police presentations on gangs sometimes they have a habit as good investigators of sitting on, rather than sharing, with the general public.”
But Sliwa feels, after 35 years spent working on the streets to fight gangs, he has a unique perspective to bring to the proverbial table.
“Why would I not be invited to give the national and international overview of the links that I have seen the 18th Street gang make, from the streets of Mexico City, throughout the United States and onto the North Fork? Not that many people are aware of the history of the 18th Street gang and how MS-13 started as a result of the attacks the 18th Street gang was conducting on the Salvadorian community in Los Angeles. It traces back to the mid-1980s.”
Sliwa said he’d like to paint a large-scale picture for the community of how gang infiltration has spread through the heartland of America and to areas much smaller in size and population than Southold. “I could then show how regionally, both these groups have launched a recruitment campaign in New Jersey and Suffolk to prey upon the new young adults who are streaming into our area from Central America. It would be a great addition to the local public safety presentation. Best yet for the taxpayers and the local budget, there will be no charge. No airline tickets, no accommodations, no wining and dining, no ancillary costs.I will do it free of charge.”
Since a community meeting held at St. Agnes earlier this month, both Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter have said they would welcome the Guardian Angels’ assistance.
Riverhead would welcome the Guardian Angels establishing a patrol here “with open arms,” Walter said in an interview with RiverheadLOCAL this week..
“I need to be able to protect them from gangs, from crimes and from outside forces,” Walter said, referring to the sometimes brutal attacks on Hispanic males who were beaten and robbed on the streets of downtown Riverhead in the last year.
“I think Curtis can help us.”
Greenport Mayor David Nyce has continued to maintain that he believes the issue should be handled locally before any outside consultation is sought; this week at the monthly village board meeting, he announced the upcoming gang forum and said he believed it would be well attended,with valuable information from local law enforcement, but did not mention the Guardian Angels. And Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller has said he does not believe Riverhead is an “epicenter” of gang activity locally.
Meanwhile, the Guardian Angels have offered to bring youth from their Washington Heights Junior Guardian Angels program out to the North Fork for a presentation in area schools. So far, David Gamberg, superintendent of both the Southold and Greenport school districts, has not weighed in, although Greenport Board of Education member Heather Wolf has said, in her personal view, she believes the Guardian Angels can bring a unique and much-needed approach in reaching out to the Latino community.
At a Spanish-speaking mass held at St. Agnes last Saturday, the Latino congregation spoke out in unison in asking for support from the Guardian Angels and signed up for additional information.
Sliwa also spoke out this week on the delay in the community gang meeting: “In my 35 years of experiencing gang activity in communities around our country, whether in small towns, suburbs or urban areas, officials generally tend to opt for the D.I.D. syndrome in response to community concerns. First ‘deny’ that the problem exists, then ‘ignore’ it until you can’t any longer, then ‘delay’ implementing a plan. If in fact you have a strategy and a plan, it shouldn’t take that long to roll it out to the general public. Obviously, anything of a sensitive matter that could jeopardize ongoing investigations or any undercover police work would not be included in the public informational presentations.”
Flatley explained the new date this week: “The change is necessary because of two important meetings on this topic that were just scheduled during the second week of December, whose outcome could alter the presentation material being offered during this public forum. This will allow me to present the most current and accurate information to the public that is available,” Flatley said.
One meeting will include all heads of law enforcement agencies in Suffolk County and the District Attorney’s Office and the second is a gang roundtable meeting, Flatley said.
Representatives from local government, law enforcement and the North Fork school districts will be present at the December 11 meeting “to provide timely information on gang history and current trends, the exploration of school-based anti-gang programs, and efforts underway to address recent gang violence. All members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend,” a release announcing the event said.
The meeting follows a brutal gang attack in Southold last month between the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs that has sparked patrols by the Guardian Angels in Greenport, with an eye toward keeping the community safe.