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Gang violence grows in South King County

In the wake of the gang-related shooting that injured 13 people at a Kent car show in July, King County leaders are looking to refocus efforts on combating gang violence.

According to statistics provided by the county:

• In 2008 and 2009, King County averaged 29 gang-related homicides and 200 reported gang-related shootings, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

• The King County Sheriff’s Office believes there are more than 10,000 gang members associated with an estimated 140 active criminal street gangs.

• Gang-related crime has increased 165 percent since 2005, with much of that crime shifting out of Seattle city limits into South King County.

During the Aug. 23 meeting of the King County Council’s Law and Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, council members and local law enforcement officials addressed the growing issue of gang violence in South King County.

King County had been using two dedicated deputy prosecuting attorneys to combat gang issues. Funded with federal grant money, the fate of these two positions are in jeopardy because that federal money ran dry in June. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office has requested supplemental funding from the county while it attempts to secure more federal funding for these two positions.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said July’s events in Kent are a clear example of why the issue needs to be addressed.

“The Kent car show shooting is the highest profile incident in a long-running gang war in South King County,” Satterberg said. “Police and prosecutors have launched an intense initiative to identify gang leaders who are responsible for shootings and other violent crimes.”

After the July shooting, the Kent Police Department convened a “Gang Violence Intervention Summit” that was attended by more than 60 high ranking law-enforcement officials. The intent of the meeting was to “identify strategies to respond to the problems posed by organized street gangs and the impace of the increasing gang-related violence in South King County.”

Steve Strachan, deputy chief for the King County Sheriff’s Office, said cooperation between all the law enforcement agencies in the region is needed.

“Partnerships are an important element to aggressively addressing the gang problem,” he said. “Violence related to gangs is not acceptable and, in addition to suppression and enforcement, addressing gang-violence requires strategic intervention and prevention to address the problem.”

Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas echoed those thoughts.

“We have to tackle the gang problem from multiple angles to be effective, and need a mix of approaches that includes suppression, intervention and prevention,” he said. “Gangs are a problem that affects every community, which is why regional cooperation and coordination is so important.”

King County Councilman Bob Ferguson, who is also chair of the Law and Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, said it’s time to sound the alarms on gang violence.

“If we want to protect our kids and our communities, we must work collaboratively to stop the current gang warfare and provide better futures for our youth to prevent them from becoming involved in gang violence,” he said in an Aug. 23 press release.

Councilmember Julia Patterson said a $1.5 million reserve fund may help the county with the re-emergence of gang violence.

“As part of the 2011 adopted budget, the council established a $1.5 million criminal justice reserve to respond to emergent public safety needs, including allowing the county budget to be able to respond to emergency situations,” she said. “The recent uprising of gang violence in our suburban communities is a prime example of an unanticipated, increasing threat to public safety that the criminal justice reserve was established to address.”

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