King County opens wallet against gangs

In response to the gang-related July shooting in Kent that left 13 injured, King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Council member Julia Patterson, announced a seven point strategy to combat gang violence and crime — especially in the southern end of the county.

The county hopes to use $1.4 million from the Criminal Justice Reserve, which was set up during the 2011 budgeting process. The fund is meant for “emergent needs related to public safety.”

Constantine urged that quick and decisive action is needed.

“The problem is emerging quickly and our actions must be swift. We cannot and we will not tolerate the criminal activities of gangs in our communities,” he said at an Aug. 30 press conference. “In the long run, we know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, so this proposal balances gang suppression with investments in tried and true solutions that give youth an opportunity for a healthy start, an education, and employment — known factors that reduce crime and gang involvement.”

King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who represents the Federal Way area, said all communities in the county need to be united in order to combat the issues surrounding gangs and gang violence.

“South King County has become a battleground for gangs from other areas of the Puget Sound region,” he said. “We must present a unified front — urban, suburban and rural — to fight this growing problem.”

The proposal includes:

• $456,000 to expand the King County Prosecutor’s anti-gang unit by supporting a team of three deputy prosecutors and a paralegal that will focus just on gang-related cases. This unit was facing an uncertain future after federal grant money dried up earlier this year.

• $30,000 to go toward equipment and related upgrades. Ballistic vests, binoculars, video equipment, training and software for video enhancement, and supplies used in serving warrants.

• $179,000 would go to a “storefront” deputy in White Center. This position was cut in 2011 due to budgetary constraints, according to the executive’s office.

• $15,000 to continue funding for the sheriff’s Latino education outreach program. This program is focused on “gang prevention and keeping young children safe from gang recruitment and activity.” Part of these dollars would pay for Spanish-language radio and TV spots, translated materials, and community and event coordination throughout the county.

• $312,500 to add two nurses to the Nurse Family Partnership Program that’s focused on White Center/Burien and Tukwila/SeaTac. According to the executive’s office, access to health services improves outcomes for mothers and keeps them away from the criminal justice system.

• $309,000 to restore two case managers for the Back to School and Employment Training Program. This was another program affected by the loss of federal funding. The program provides education and employment training for young offenders in the county.

• $137,500 to maintain the Avanza project, another social services program aimed at keeping youth out of the criminal justice program, specificially Latino youth. The executive’s office indicates this program has “been successful in engaging truant youth back into school and providing employment opportunities.”

“To protect our kids and communities, we need to invest in additional resources to combat the gang violence problem,” said Bob Ferguson, who chairs the council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “Law enforcement needs the tools necessary to combat the ongoing gang war in our region, which include prevention and intervention services that help provide better futures for our youth and prevent them from becoming involved in gangs.”

Councilman Reagan Dunn said gang violence cannot and will not be tolerated in King County.

“I was shocked and appalled by the shooting of 13 people in Kent recently,” he said. “The incident started a gang war in South King County that is a very serious problem. These resources are desperately needed to respond quickly and forcefully. This kind of violence will not be tolerated in our community.”

The council discussed this proposal Aug. 31 in a Budget and Fiscal Management Committee meeting. The council is expected to act on this proposal in September.


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