‘Gang war in South King County’: Law enforcers brief councilmembers
At the county courthouse this afternoon, leaders from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and King County Sheriff’s Office were part of a briefing about what no one seems to dispute is a resurgence in gang violence, particularly in South King County – a bonafide “gang war,” it was called.
Most of the talk before the County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee focused on the shooting of 12 people at a car show in Kent one month ago, but certainly the fact a known gang member is jailed in connection with the White Center shooting death of Sweetheart Failautusi a week ago is part of the picture too (though that case was not brought up at all during the briefing).
It was more than a “here’s where things stand” briefing – it was a plea for resources to get out on the prevention end of the problem, rather than just “chasing gunfire,” as one participant put it.
Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg led off the briefing, saying there is a “war among rival Latino gangs in South King County” that is “likely to turn violent” whenever rival gangs’ members encounter each other. He also emphasized, “We have a serious gang problem … We no longer have the luxury of denying that. … Once the bullets start flying, it’s time for suppression.”
KCSO Deputy Chief Steve Strachan said, “Intervention and prevention does matter” too – though “aggressive” crimefighting and prosecution are called for as well. He said partnerships are invaluable in fighting a problem like this.
KCSO’s Det. Joe Gagliardi said that what used to be a problem in north King County has migrated south, and again reiterated that “predominantly Hispanic” gangs, “five or six” of them, are the main problem, though he cautioned, “all races are involved.” Even those who are Hispanic, he took pains to note, are natural-born citizens: “These are our children.” (That was stressed again later in the briefing – that citizens are the bulk of the problem, not illegal immigrants. And the “children” aspect was noted by Satterberg, calling it “heartbreaking” that some gang members are children of “hardcore” gang members who haven’t ever known anything else.)
Det. Gagliardi said the fights against rival gang members are “dictated by their (gang) culture,” even if they happen in “very public venues” like the Kent car show. He says gang members are coming here from Eastern Washington and California as well, sometimes because “injunctions” are in place where they used to be headquartered. (Asked later to elaborate, he said that our state’s law currently wouldn’t allow those, but it could be changed. Satterberg said those civil injunctions allow a lot of work but once in place allows police “a tool to use” in fighting gang activity.)
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas was part of the group briefing councilmembers (the committee membership includes White Center/West Seattle Councilmember Joe McDermott). He talked specifically about the car-show incident. He talked of working with other area agencies that collectively have 20 detectives working on the problem of gang violence. They’re not just tackling the violence, but also looking at gangs as a “complex criminal enterprise” in a conspiracy mode, he said. He also mentioned a retailation shooting following the car-show incident, which involved what he called “multiple shooters.”
Chief Thomas said that the car-show investigation has a prosecuting attorney specifically assigned to it, and he thinks that would be helpful in other investigations. Elaborating on that point, at the request of County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, Satterberg agreed that it’s vital to have prosecutors support complicated investigations “from the beginning” – but also noted that a grant the county was using has just run out. “We desperately need some help,” he said, also pointing out that budget cuts have cost his staff 36 deputy prosecutors in the past 4 years. Asked if the gang-violence situation is a “crisis,” he replied, “We have an all-out war.”
It’s not just violence – Satterberg said gang members “are at the root of a lot of our property crime right now,” as younger members who might not yet be involved in dealing drugs are still involved in burglaries and thefts, for example. How much younger? The average age of gang members is 12-35, said Det. Gagliardi, but there are much older members, too. Removing the leaders as well as the active gang members is vital to making a dent in the problem, he said, as is educating parents about how to recognize the signs that their children might be involved with gangs. (Councilmember Kathy Lamberg suggested that perhaps videos could be put on YouTube to assist with teaching parents what those signs look like.) Overall, regarding prevention/enforcement, “this is not an either/or,” said Chief Strachan. Added PA Satterberg, “It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of young people.”
And it’s a battle that’s really only just begun, Satterberg said: “We’re at the beginning.”
COUNCIL SIDE NOTES: Councilmember Julia Patterson said, “This issue is very personal to me – (the car show shooting) happened in a mall where I shop at … I could have been there.” (She’s not on the Law and Justice Committee, but joined the meeting especially because the shooting happened in her area.) Councilmember Reagan Dunn said he’s going on a Gang Unit ridealong tomorrow.
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