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Suffolk County's New District Attorney Forms Special Unit To Combat Gangs

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Suffolk County's new top prosecutor has a new tool in the fight against the deadly gang epidemic on Long Island.

Newly-elected District Attorney Tim Sini announced Wednesday that his office is creating a special team of more than a dozen prosecutors and detectives with one mission.

The unit will be dedicated solely to the investigation, arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and post-release supervision of gang members of Suffolk County.

"The new unit will be laser-focused on prosecuting gang members, partnering with every single law enforcement agency on Long Island," Sini said. "The newly formed gang unit will now serve as the sole proprietor of gang-related prosecutions in this office. The unit is not only going to prosecute all gang-related offenses, but will also prosecute gang members who are charged with non-gang related crime."

Sini said there will be an assistant district attorney on call 24/7 to handle gang cases.

There will also be bi-weekly meetings between the district attorney's new gang unit and every police department in the county. It will involve local, state, and federal authorities -- including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, families in fear of MS-13 gang warfare hope the new unit will be a start to luring kids away from gang life or from the fear of not joining.

The day after President Donald Trump's White House roundtable on combatting MS-13 gangs, and a week after their return from the State of the Union address as guests of the Trumps, CBS2 spoke with the parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas – both 16 – who are believed to have been murdered at the hands of MS-13 gangs in Brentwood in 2016.

"Kaylas's voice is being heard through me, and no parent should have suffer or go through the pain that we've endured," said Kayla's mother, Evelyn Rodriguez.

"We owe it to Evelyn, her family, and all the other victims of gang violence to step up our game, coordinate our resources, and get the job done," added Sini.

Mickens' mother, Elizabeth Alvarado, also said the new unit was a welcome development.

"You want the guilty punished, but you want education too – yes, because what they did to my daughter and Kayla is unacceptable," Alvarado said.

She said more volunteers like Jackie Saavedra are needed. Saavedra, of Make the Road New York, works with at-risk youth – engaging them in scouting, athletics, and debate.

"Gang prevention, programs where kids can go and build on their leadership skills and build on their civic engagement," Saavedra said. "What our communities need is a lot of love and support."

Leaders gathered agreed, hoping new phone tip lines will help protect innocent and vulnerable children.

"You may remain anonymous, receive up to $5,000 for your information, and the line accommodates over 200 foreign languages," Sini said.

Meanwhile, while not mentioning former District Attorney Thomas Spota, who is now under indictment, Sini repeatedly promised a new spirit of cooperation with federal prosecutors.

"This is in stark contrast to how things were being done prior to my administration," Sini said.

The county will press the state and federal government to grant funding to help pay for the new gang unit. Money and protection are the hard realities, they say.

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