Unfortunately, gangs were not a subject that other local departments wanted to discuss. “Most of the departments didn’t want to admit there was a gang problem, and didn’t want us to tell them that we even saw a gang problem in their community because their thing was gangs make communities look bad, and they didn’t want the recognition of being a troubled community,” says Smith.
Still, despite the reluctance of other departments to admit it, Smith started seeing more and more evidence of gangs, including MS-13, Bloods, Latin Kings, Crips, Salvadorians with Pride, and even the Hells Angels.
Eventually, the other local agencies had to admit that gangs had come to suburban Long Island.
“We pushed for a gang task force to start and made connections with the DEA,” says Smith. In addition to the DEA, the task force included personnel from the New York State Police, the Nassau County Police, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, the Port Washington Police Department, the Freeport Police Department, and HUD. In 2003, the DEA pulled out and the FBI became the new lead federal agency.
Today, the task force is credited with years of solid investigations and gang interdiction. It’s sent really bad people to prison, provided evidence to deport gang leaders back to Central America, and prevented some local youths from joining gangs. The task force is a success.
But it wasn’t easy, and the years have taken a personal toll on Smith, who has even been the target of death threats from gang members.
The first came in 2000 when Smith received information through informants that an MS-13 member was planning a hit on he and Serrano. The information was confirmed by police officers from another local department through their informants. And the threat was taken very seriously.
Smith and Serrano were brought into headquarters and told to keep their guns on them at all times, to take home their radios, and to have CAPER alarms installed in their homes. In addition, the Nassau County Police were instructed to do intensive patrol of the two officers’ homes.
The threats also affected Smith’s family. He painfully recalls what it was like to tell his wife and his children that he and they were wearing bull’s eyes. With a young son in grammar school and a daughter in junior high, Smith also had to go to his children’s schools and tell the officials what was happening.
“My son thought it was cool, my daughter had a tougher time. We had to be stricter with them. We had to make sure we knew where they were at all times. It made their lives uncomfortable,” Smith says.
After awhile, things began to get back to normal. Then in 2002, the task force was doing some major investigations in the village, and through various informants they were told hits were being put out on task force members. Chillingly, they were told that several members of the task force had already been followed home, and the gang members knew where they lived and what types of cars they drove.
“One night, as I pulled out of work, I observed a car with four people inside parked in a driveway across the street,” Smith says. “As I pulled by, I recognized two of the people in the front street as MS gang members that I knew. They had been watching our office. So I went up to the corner and made a quick U turn. They shot up north. I followed them and ended up losing them.
“But since I knew who they were, we proceeded to intensify our enforcement of gangs. We let them know that we knew what was going on and pretty much told them if someone in the task force gets hit, their lives would not be worth living. We eventually locked up two people, and deported them, and after that the threat pretty much went away.”