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The reality of criminal gangs in South King County
A gang is a group of people who make money from criminal enterprises, and South King County has its share of gang activity.
Common crimes associated with gang activity include auto theft, burglaries, drugs and prostitution. Gang wars also lead to gun violence in public settings. A thread among gang-related activity is that most offenders live outside of the communities where they commit their crimes.
A blog called Northwest Gangs has actively tracked and shared gang-related headlines and photos for the past several years. The blog’s creator, who goes by Brad to protect his anonymity, has documented gangs and their graffiti in South King County.
Brad said the more established gangs in Federal Way include the 74 Hoover Criminals (mostly along Pacific Highway), Family Mafia Crips, West Side Mafia Blood Gang, King Underground Surenos, South Side Playboys, Sureno King Lokotes and Sons of Samoa.
“More or less, you’re seeing a spillover of the same gangs in Seattle and Tacoma,” Brad told The Mirror about gang activity in South King County.
Gentrification and new construction lead to gang members looking for homes in other low-income neighborhoods.
“Territorial-wise, it’s just kind of spread all over,” Brad said.
Brad’s observations of gang activity in South King County aligns with the view of local law enforcement, in that gangs are less concentrated in suburbia compared to Seattle and Tacoma neighborhoods. Seattle areas like South Park and the Central District have established gang territory.
Brad, a Seattle resident, said he is not involved in a gang, and instead works in public relations. He started the blog because he had trouble finding information on local gangs, a topic he learned about in his native Yakima. Local media and law enforcement have contacted him for insight.
The 32-year-old blogger views his site as a public education service. Gang members have emailed death threats, he said, while others accuse him of glamorizing the gang lifestyle.
“I hear from youth counselors, school teachers,” he said. “People come to my website because they’re looking for information.”
One thing Brad’s site teaches is the difference between gang graffiti and random street tagging. Gang graffiti is meant to communicate a specific message, and is typically one color and straightforward. The tagging by “artists” and wannabes, however, often features bubble letters and multiple colors.
According to the Center for Children and Youth Justice, gang members often grow up in dysfunctional households with a lack of positive role models and supervision. By living under conditions that promote criminal behavior, young gang members are more likely to drop out of school or go to prison.
Federal Way’s gang-related cases include the murder charges filed against Renton resident Kenneth Sutton for a July 2012 shooting at Johnny’s Famous Bar and Grill. The case is being handled by the county’s homicide unit.
The July 2011 shooting at a car show in Kent, in which 12 people were injured, served as a wake-up call for gang violence in King County. Six alleged gang members were eventually arrested following an extensive investigation. In August 2011, the county reacted with a $1.4 million proposal to combat gangs and crime. The money helped fund personnel, equipment and education outreach.
Later this year, the Suburban King County Coordinating Council on Gangs will release a comprehensive study of gang activity in the area with updated statistics.
King County lacks a system or method for counting the number of gang members that reside in each city. The county prosecutor’s office keeps statistics only on gang cases filed as criminal charges.
• Between Jan. 2010 and Dec. 2011, nine gang cases on file had occurred in Federal Way. Of those cases, only two were committed by residents of Federal Way. In that time period, gang members living in Federal Way committed nine crimes on file, including the two referenced above.
• Between Jan. 2010 and Dec. 2011, Seattle had 45 cases filed, Kent had 11 cases, Auburn had 10, Renton had 8, and Seatac had 6.
• Top gang-related crimes in Federal Way are assaults (shootings and stabbings), armed robberies, burglaries, drive-by shootings and gun possession.
• According to a 2011 report, there are an estimated 12,000 gang members in King County, with about 143 active criminal street gangs. The King County Sheriff’s Office reported that about 87 of those gangs are active in South King County, and 46 have at least 15 members each.
• Contrary to stereotypes, some gangs in King County contain multiple generations and ethnicities. Although there are some all-female gangs, many local gangs consist of both men and women.
• Federal Way employs two half-time paid positions for graffiti removal, and residents can report graffiti at (253) 835-2617.
This month, The Mirror will examine gangs in Federal Way and South King County. Next week’s installment of the series will discuss the resources that local governments and police departments devote toward battling gang activity.
Check out a slideshow of South King County gang graffiti or click here. (Photos by nwgangs.com):