Gangsters arrested after tense standoff


Staff writer

Federal Way Police arrested seven gang members in the Westway neighborhood last week after a confrontation in which the men, armed with handguns and protected with bulletproof vests, threatened responding officers.

Police spokesman Kurt Schwan said someone apparently called police to report suspicious activity after observing about 25 men outside.

The first three officers to arrive were immediately challenged by the men, Schwan said.

The officers called for back-up, but when four or five more officers arrived and the men still refused to disperse, Federal Way police called for additional back-up. Officers from the Kent and Des Moines police departments responded and helped arrest the resistant men.

Three of the men were wearing bulletproof vests that may have been stolen from a law enforcement equipment distributor in Des Moines, Schwan said.

Police took a .25-caliber pistol lying in the street and another pistol from one of the men.

Schwan said gang members live in Westway, but the neighborhood doesn’t normally have gang-related problems like last week.

That the men were confrontational and in possession of weapons and bulletproof vests was disconcerting, but Schwan said it wasn’t something to raise alarm among the police ranks.

“We’ll keep it in mind when we contact people in the future,” he said.

In fact, while gangs still exist, deal drugs and commit other crimes, gang activity has been fairly low-key in recent years, according to authorities.

Federal Way Police don’t have a gang unit or officers specially trained in gang activity, but Tacoma Police detective Jack Skaanes has been with his department since gangs hit Hilltop and surrounding areas in force in the mid-1980s.

He said there used to be 30 to 35 gang-related incidents a week, from drive-bys to shoplifting, domestic violence or robbery. Any criminal activity engaged in by a known member of a gang was counted as gang-related activity.

Today, Tacoma Police might deal with 15 or 20 incidents a month, Skaanes said.

He attributes the reduction to gangsters getting caught and sentenced to long prison terms and the high number of gang-related homicides since the 1980s, which maybe encouraged a reduction in violence.

While gang activity has dropped, gang membership hasn’t — it’s just gone underground, Skaanes said.

In 1987, gang members readily identified themselves, their street names and their gang membership to police. Today, they’re more likely to conceal their affiliations. Colors aren’t flown the way they used to be and fashion has commercialized the way gangsters dress, Skaanes said. Police have to know what they’re looking for to identify a gang member these days.

For the most part, gangs are still involved in trafficking or dealing drugs and other criminal activities, and police still have major concerns when they come across a homicide that appears to be gang-on-gang murder, because that means a retaliation is in the works somewhere.

People not involved in gangs or in drug-related activity normally don’t have to worry about being attacked by gang members for no reason, Skaanes said.

Still, if a passerby happened upon a fight and didn’t know it was gang-related and tried to break it up, he or she might suffer dire consequences. “Innocent victims mean nothing to” gangs, Skaanes said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565,

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