King County leaders commit $1.4 million to combat gangs

September 13, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Lake Sammamish State Park shootout influences decision

King County leaders bolstered efforts to combat street gangs late last month and directed $1.4 million from a law-enforcement emergency fund to confront a rise in gang violence.

The funds aid prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies and community organizations in anti-gang efforts. The county intends to add three deputy prosecutors and a paralegal focused solely on gang-related cases. Plans call for the King County Sheriff’s Office to receive additional equipment and training.

Dow Constantine

Kathy Lambert

County Council members created the law-enforcement emergency fund last year to address unforeseen criminal justice needs.

Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative, joined County Executive Dow Constantine, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and other leaders Aug. 30 to announce the initiative. The council agreed to fund the initiative a week later.

“We want King County to be a family-friendly and gang-unfriendly area,” she said after the announcement. “We’re taking this very seriously. We’re not putting up with it.”

Lambert said the gang-related shootout at Lake Sammamish State Park in July 2010 also influenced the decision to confront gang violence. The lethal gun battle left a 33-year-old Kent man and a 30-year-old Seattle man dead.

“It used to be that gangs had a neighborhood that they lived in and now they go all over the place,” she said.

Officials rolled out the initiative a little more than a month after a shooting at a Kent car show wounded 12 people. Police said a retaliatory shooting later injured a 13th person.

Satterberg and Sheriff Sue Rahr said crime related to gang activity increased 165 percent since 2005 even as overall crime decreased. The county experienced 29 gang-related killings and 200 reported gang-related shootings in 2008-09.

“This comprehensive proposal to fund dedicated gang prosecutors is a rapid response to an escalating threat to public safety,” Satterberg said in a statement. “It will allow my office to build strong cases against the leaders of violent gangs and at the same time fund programs for at-risk youth, so that we can offer them an alternative to the gang life.”

Leaders ‘want to break that cycle’

Officials estimate as many as 10,000 gang members in about 140 gangs reside in King County.

By the numbers

King County leaders committed more than $1.4 million Aug. 30 to criminal justice agencies and social-service programs to combat gang violence:

  • $456,000 to expand the King County prosecutor’s anti-gang unit by supporting three deputy prosecutors and a paralegal focused solely on gang-related cases.
  • $30,000 for equipment for the King County Sheriff’s Office gang unit, including ballistic vests, binoculars, video equipment, training and software for video enhancement, and supplies used to serve arrest and search warrants.
  • $179,000 to reopen a sheriff’s office storefront in White Center, a presence eliminated in the 2011 county budget.
  • $15,000 to continue funding for the sheriff’s office’s Latino education outreach program for young mothers and other family members. The program focuses on gang prevention and keeping young children safe from gang recruitment and activity.
  • $312,500 to add two nurses to the Nurse Family Partnership Program, a Public Health – Seattle & King effort to help high-risk mothers and keep them out of the criminal justice system.
  • $309,000 to restore two case managers for the Back to School and Employment Training Program to provide education and employment training for young offenders in South King County.
  • $137,500 to continue funding for the Avanza project, a training program for Latino youths at risk of dropping out of school or falling into the juvenile justice system.

Lambert and Councilwoman Julia Patterson, a South King County representative, said the nexus for gang activity is along state Route 99.

“We were concerned that we were getting a lot of out-of-state gangs, but what we’re finding is that that isn’t so,” Lambert said. “We are getting out-of-state gangs, but that isn’t exclusively where they’re coming from. A lot of them are our own Washingtonians that are second- and third-generation gang members. So, Momma and Grandma and Granddad are all gang members, too. We want to break that cycle.”

The anti-gang initiative also provides funding for social services meant to steer at-risk Latino youths in South King County away from gangs.

“In the long run we know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, so this proposal balances gang suppression with investments in tried-and-true solutions that give youth an opportunity for a healthy start, an education and employment — known factors that reduce crime and gang involvement,” Constantine said in a statement.

Eastside residents contacted Lambert’s office to call for action against gang violence before the problem worsened elsewhere in the county. In addition to Issaquah, she represents Redmond, Sammamish and the Snoqualmie Valley.

“They want it stopped. They want to make sure that it’s taken seriously,” she said. “I think this really responds to the fact that we are taking it very seriously.”

Plan bolsters prosecutor, sheriff

The other Issaquah-area representative on the council, Councilman Reagan Dunn, and Councilman Larry Phillips sent a letter to Constantine in early August requesting additional funds for prosecutors to confront gang violence in South King County.

“As soon as I heard about the developing gang war, I knew this was something that King County needed to jump on right away,” Dunn said in a statement issued Aug. 30. “This level of violence in our communities cannot be tolerated. I applaud Prosecutor Satterberg for raising this issue quickly and my colleagues for acting decisively.”

The allocation to Satterberg’s office represents the largest piece — $456,000 — in the $1.4 million initiative. The plan calls for the sheriff’s office to receive $30,000 for equipment and training, $179,000 to reopen the police storefront in crime-plagued White Center and $15,000 to fund outreach efforts to the Latino community.

“The actions being taken by the executive and the council are a thoughtful approach to an ongoing problem, and we sincerely appreciate their working closely with the King County Sheriff’s Office,” Rahr said in a statement. “This will help our deputies and detectives do their jobs even better.”

Officials said agencies and organizations can quickly implement the efforts outlined in the anti-gang initiative.

“The problem is emerging quickly and our actions must be swift,” Constantine said. “We cannot and we will not tolerate the criminal activities of gangs in our communities.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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