Gang solutions in King County challenging | Editorial

The other day I was flipping through the cable channels and came across the movie “Colors” with Robert Duvall and Sean Penn. The movie is all about two Los Angeles police officers working in the Gang Unit. They deal with generational, entrenched gang issues in certain neighborhoods, and the overall tone of the movie is how hopeless and difficult reducing gang violence can be.

The movie was made in 1988, 23 years ago.

My point is that gang issues and the high-profile incidents that sometimes result from it are nothing new. The reasons behind the existence of gangs are complex, and any attempt to reduce or “solve” the gang problem is similarly complex. After some recent high-profile gang incidents, it is attractive to look for an easy answer. Deport all the illegals, put everyone in jail, have more guns, have fewer guns. Of course, the real solutions are not easy and will not have quick results. Also, the problem is not specific to any one area or part of our county. So, let’s discuss it honestly and thoughtfully.

Gang issues exist in every region of the country and are often cyclical. Like crime itself, rises in gang violence are not directly linked to any specific trend, like a bad economy or reduced social spending. Law enforcement can have a significant effect on crime, and on gangs, but of course it is not the only answer. Enforcement deals only with the most extreme and advanced parts of the issue. You’ve heard the phrase “we can’t arrest our way out of a problem”, and it is true. However, coordinated intelligence, aggressive and targeted law enforcement, and strategic prosecution can have a significant effect on suppressing violence. It just won’t “solve” long-term gang involvement. We all know that takes a coordinated commitment to working with at-risk kids, the community making gang involvement unacceptable, and we also need to stop celebrating and promoting the gang culture in movies and entertainment.

So where does that leave us right now? The fact is, law enforcement agencies in King County have been doing aggressive and coordinated enforcement related to gangs for some time. The recent events have brought more attention to the issue, and the

Sheriff’s Office is a partner with our municipal police departments to track, identify, arrest and prosecute the worst of the worst offenders.

Our challenge is to not allow this enforcement effort, and the recent addition of more resources to the fight against gangs, to become the “flavor of the month” and to forget about it once something else has our collective attention. The heavy lifting of working with kids, preventing gang involvement and violence, and getting members out of the gang life will continue, and we need to remember that it is important, even when the attention fades.

Your sheriff’s office and our area police departments are working together, but we are only part of the solution. Let’s not overreact, or underestimate the problem. A thoughtful and long-term approach is the best way for us to keep King County a great place to raise your kids and grow your business.


Steve Strachan is the chief deputy at the King County Sheriff’s Office. He has 25 years of law enforcement experience. Prior to being appointed by Sheriff Rahr as chief deputy in 2011, he served from 2006-2011 as chief of police in Kent.

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