SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY SINI TESTIFIES BEFORE PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION
SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY SINI TESTIFIES BEFORE PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION, HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR ENHANCED ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITIES TO COMBAT GANGS, INCLUDING MS-13, IN LIGHT OF ADVANCEMENTS IN COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini testified yesterday before the U.S. Department of Justice’s Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice regarding the District Attorney’s Office’s efforts to combat gangs, including its historic use of electronic surveillance investigations to eradicate MS-13. In his testimony, District Attorney Sini highlighted the ever-increasing challenges posed by the use of encrypted applications and other devices to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to collect reliable, real-time intelligence and evidence relating to criminal enterprises such as MS-13.
“Suffolk County has been on the forefront of developing innovative tactics and long-term sustainable strategies to eradicate violent street gangs like MS-13 from our communities,” District Attorney Sini said. “However, our ability to effectively conduct this type of surveillance is currently hampered by the use of encryption and other technological tools used to thwart law enforcement’s lawful efforts to obtain evidence of criminal wrongdoing. That is why I am asking the federal government to assist law enforcement agencies, particularly those at the local level, to overcome these issues and enable us to continue to effectively conduct long-term, wiretap investigations, which go a long way in eradicating gangs and other criminal enterprises.”
In recognition of the District Attorney’s Office’s expertise and success in reducing gang violence, District Attorney Sini was invited by federal officials to testify in the hearing, entitled “Crime Reduction – The National and Local Impact of Violent Crime, Gun Crime, and Gangs.” During his testimony, which was conducted via teleconference yesterday, District Attorney Sini urged the Department of Justice to further develop strategies and advocate for laws that enable law enforcement to access real time surveillance of communications, regardless of encryption or provider; to obtain historical content, such as text messages, from providers; to access locked phones that are seized during an investigation; and to effectively store and analyze cell phone “packet data” and invest in interception technology that is not surpassed by the latest communications technology.
“Part of our mission is to make the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office a national model,” District Attorney Sini said. “We are already a leader in the nation on electronic investigations, and we are eager to share our expertise with law enforcement agencies across the country and work with the federal government to further enhance our investigative capabilities. These strategies are critically important to conducting proactive investigations that prevent crime and protect public safety.”
District Attorney Sini highlighted law enforcement’s need for electronic investigations and surveillance in order to conduct successful, proactive and life-saving investigations, such as the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s two-year investigation into MS-13 that resulted in one of the single largest takedowns of MS-13 gang members and associates in history.
That investigation, announced by District Attorney Sini in December 2019, included court-authorized eavesdropping by the District Attorney’s Office on approximately 215 phone lines and contributed to the arrest of more than 230 MS-13 gang members worldwide.
In Suffolk County alone, the investigation netted criminal charges against 96 MS-13 gang members and associates and thwarted more than 10 alleged murder plots by charging defendants for conspiracies to commit murder. The intelligence and strategic arrests from the investigation effectively terminated the New York Program, which was created by the leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador to develop a greater presence on Long Island and further its objectives of violence and dominance.
President Donald J. Trump created the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in October 2019. Under the leadership of Attorney General William Barr, the Commission is tasked with gathering information from experts and practitioners with firsthand experience in the field about best practices, lessons learned, challenges, successful programs and initiatives, and innovative strategies to address and enhance law enforcement and the administration of justice. Attorney General Barr will then provide a report for the President and law enforcement across the country based on the findings and work of the Commission.
In 2017, while serving as Police Commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, District Attorney Sini testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in a hearing entitled “Border Insecurity: The Rise of MS-13 and Other Transnational Criminal Organizations,” and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security regarding MS-13. As Police Commissioner, District Attorney Sini also successfully lobbied the Department of Justice for additional resources to combat MS-13 in Suffolk County, including a federal grant that was awarded after President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Suffolk County on two separate occasions.