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CBS2 Exclusive: Suffolk Police Unit Leads County's Fight Against Brutal MS-13 Street Gang

YAPHANK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- MS-13 gang members have been linked to at least 22 killings on Long Island this year, including the murders of several children.

Imagine what it's like to live and raise a family in the shadow of this vicious gang. Amidst the beautiful homes and manicured lawns decorated for fall, evil lurks.

"People here are really great, but they're very scared," one officer in Suffolk County said. CBS2's Jennifer McLogan rode along with the county's gang team to get a behind the scenes look at their efforts to take the vicious gang down.

The gang is responsible for dozens of assaults and murders, even of children -- including Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, whose bodies were found on a tree-lined street in Brentwood just last fall.

"They're the most brutal gang," Suffolk Police Lieutenant Thomas Zagajeski said.

MS-13 actually originated in Los Angeles and has existed for decades, but in recent years the gang has taken over and terrorized Long Island.

"Store keepers, students," Zagajeski said. "Mostly people from their county."

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini says there is a number of reasons for the uptick.

"One was a call to increase its presence on the east coast, and then you have the influx of immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras come to Suffolk County," Sini said. "Unaccompanied children have come to us from those countries and this is a very vulnerable segment of our population."

Lt. Zagajeski is the gang team's commanding officer.

"We look for different markings, different graffiti," he said. The gang even leaves hatchet marks in trees with machetes, the hallmark of the gang that's been used as a weapon in several of the murders -- including those of four young men in April.

But the Suffolk County team is making progress. Sini says they've made over 250 arrests since they rolled out the initiative in September 2016.

In addition to aggressive policing, Sini says they work closely with local schools.

"It's a sort of weed and seed model," the commissioner said. "We're going to weed out the dangerous members and we're going to seed the community with real options so they're not being successfully recruited into gangs."

Lt. Zagajeski says it's a war they're fighting.

"We're not going anywhere," he said. "The only one that is leaving is MS-13."

In his address to police chiefs Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said targeting MS-13 will also reduce the influx of drugs brought into the country from overseas.

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