By Craig Schneider, Stefanie Dazio and Mark Morales Newsday
NASSAU COUNTY, N.Y. — Nassau and Hempstead Village police officers are on high alert and stepping up enforcement after MS-13 twice threatened cops, pledging in one case to “take the streets back” in retaliation for arrests of gang members.
“If MS-13 wants to threaten a cop in this county, MS-13 is gonna get an answer,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Thursday night at a news conference with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “We will answer that threat and answer it strongly.”
In the second threat, which Ryder said came after neighborhood sweeps Wednesday led to several arrests, an MS-13 gang member vowed to “execute” an officer the commissioner did not name.
“There was a threat that an individual that was planning to execute a cop and did have weapons in his vehicle and a mask but . . . by the grace of God that didn’t happen that night,” Ryder said.
Suffolk County Crime Stoppers also is offering a $25,000 reward “for information that leads to an arrest in connection with threats to harm police officers,” the department said Friday morning in a news release.
The department said it “has taken necessary precautions to protect our officers.”
“While the Suffolk County Police Department takes this threat seriously, we will not be deterred in our mission by threats by gang members,” police said in a statement. “Our commitment in bringing gang members and their associates who commit crimes to justice continues to be a top priority.”
Suffolk police acting Commissioner Geraldine Hart encouraged citizens with information about MS-13 threats come forward.
“It is the department’s hope that anyone with information about these threats will do what is right and provide details to thwart acts of violence,” Hart said in a statement.
On Wednesday afternoon, an informant told Hempstead Village police of the first threat: An MS-13 gang member had urged other members to “take out a cop” in the Hempstead area. That information prompted a flood of law enforcement officers to make the arrests where they also learned of the second threat.
Hempstead Village Police Chief Michael McGowan couldn’t be reached for comment.
Ryder also announced a $25,000 Crime Stoppers reward Thursday night for information leading to an arrest of anyone who threatens the life of a police officer.
Nassau police had initially circulated an internal memo Wednesday, which goes to officers departmentwide, detailing the first threat made by a gang member to a “credible” informant.
The memo prompted the NYPD to alert its 36,500 officers of the threat and cautioned them to be vigilant.
A gang member told the informant “it’s time to take the streets back and take out a cop like we do in El Salvador,” according to the memo. The informant told police the gang member, whom he described as thin with tattoos of three dots next to an eye, said MS-13 “needs to make a statement.”
Any gang member, according to the memo, has permission to carry out the attack.
Officers should take the threat seriously, the memo said, advising them not to wear their uniforms off duty, to carry their firearms at all times, and to consider different routes from those they normally travel.
The threats came as MS-13’s alleged East Coast kingpin came to court in Nassau to face charges that his four-state network plotted killings and trafficked in drugs in the region.
In the past two years, authorities have increased their enforcement of MS-13, which officials say is responsible for more than two dozen killings on Long Island.
Nassau County and Hempstead Village departments are also requiring that officers double up on their response to calls, officials said.
Michael McGowan, chief of police for Hempstead Village, said the department is speaking to all officers about the threat. “We believe it to be a credible threat…were are investigating it vigorously.”
Because of the initial threat, the Hempstead department is now requiring two officers respond to every call, according to Hempstead Village Officer Christopher Giardino, who leads the department’s Police Benevolent Association. Usually, only one officer responds to calls, such as a request for an ambulance, because of manpower and budget costs, he said.
“Any kind of call — it could be a dog loose — two men to each call, no matter what,” he said. “It could be a setup, we don’t know.”
Both officers must stay at the scene until the call is completed, Giardino said.
Hempstead Village officers are nervous and have reached out to him, he said.
“They’re worried about their safety,” he said.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott said on Friday morning he wants more security measures, including more patrols in addition to having two cars.
“Do whatever we need to do,” McDermott said at a news conference. “Pull out all the stops.”
Local officials expressed their support for area law enforcement.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that our police officers and first responders are protected,” Curran said at the news conference.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said in a statement, “We stand in solidarity with the entire law enforcement community against these heinous and disturbing threats.”
MS-13 gang members have killed at least 25 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties since 2016, authorities have said. Hempstead Village has the largest population of MS-13 members in the county, according to Giardino. Federal officials count some 2,000 members of the brutal street gang on Long Island.
President Donald Trump, who has blamed gang violence and other crime on illegal immigration, came to Brentwood in July and described some Long Island towns as “bloodstained killing fields” that are “under siege” and need to be liberated from MS-13.
With Anthony M. DeStefano and Nicole Fuller
By Craig Schneider, Stefanie Dazio and Mark Morales firstname.lastname@example.org @Scraigo
Craig Schneider is a Long Island native and Stony Brook University alumnus. He joined Newsday as a general assignment reporter in January 2018 after 20 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.