Police have a new approach for gangs

By Brendan Myrick and Krystal Robbins - Staff Reporters

Police across South King County hope to show younger gang members that they might not be on the best career path.

Police across South King County have seen a decrease in overall crime, but an increase in gang related crimes and activity.  One area of focus is with the younger gang members, some as young as 13, by trying to open up new and better paths for them to follow.

Before turning toward arrest, the first method police across South King County use to combat gang activity is by positive social interaction with young gang members. Police say it is a step to help repair trust between the police and the communities where the majority of gang members come from.

"We have smaller outreach teams to go out and learn more about the gang members," said Sgt. Victor Masters, Tukwila police spokesman. "We get to know them; we let them get to know us."

By communicating with suspected gang members, police will have a better understanding of connections with Seattle gangs, where gangs are most present, and who should be arrested, he said. 

In Tukwila, police have seen an increase in misdemeanors from gang members.

 "Most gangs are involved in minor crimes such as graffiti, theft and vandalism. The bigger cities are where more major crimes occur, such as homicides and burglaries," Sgt. Masters said. 

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus recently convened a meeting with South King County mayors, police chiefs,  the Seattle Police Department, and other city officials to look at and talk about how to minimize the issue of gang violence.

Federal Way and Kent have both experienced multiple shootings recently. One example is of Arturo Marcial-Alvarez of Kent, who died due to a drive-by shooting in Federal Way in mid-April.

Another gang related shooting also took place in Federal Way that injured two men.  The shooting was believed to be retaliation from rival gang members over an incident in Seattle.

"There have been 16 gun homicides, 48 other shootings with wounded victims, and 100 incident reports on shots fired these past few months," Mayor Backus said.

"Gun violence is mobile," said Renton Mayor Denis Law. "What encourages them and how do we get in front of them?" 

The Valley Enforcement Gangs and Narcotics task force was formed by the mayors and police chiefs of South King County. Their goal is to team up and tackle gang and gun violence together. 

 "Bringing law enforcement and mayors into the same room, that doesn't happen that often so we can all hear the same thing," said Mayor Backus. "It's just not right and we want to take our cities back."

The recent increase in gang-related violence has also attracted the attention of several federal agencies. Those agencies are the FBI, DEA, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell mentioned those federal agencies will be aiding the Valley Enforcement Gangs and Narcotics task force.

 "We've got shootings, multiple in Seattle, Renton, Kent, Burien, and all over, and many of these are connected," Ferrell said. "It is absolutely required of us as elected leaders and police chiefs to get together and really figure out ways to coordinate information and streamline this information sharing."

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