Last July, shots rang out and chaos ensued. It was a shocking wakeup call.
Gunshots were fired by several different people at a car show in Kent, just off of Pacific Highway, resulting in several serious injuries.
Almost a year has passed since that tragic day. Now, we would like to bring you up to date on the case, discuss the underlying root cause of gang violence, and what we’re doing to help address it.
Through collaboration from various law enforcement agencies and led by the Kent Police Department, five individuals have been arrested in connection with firing a weapon at the incident. Each has some gang involvement, and all come from the South King County area.
They are all in custody on various charges. Three other persons also were charged, one for a drive-by shooting which occurred later that same day and two for rendering assistance in the crime. The two who assisted others in the crime already have been convicted. All other cases are currently pending.
Root causes of gang violence
Arguably, there are many factors that lead young men and women to join criminal gangs. Evidence indicates that there is one thing that connects most, if not all the contributing factors – limited opportunities.
Studies have shown that young people would not choose to engage in criminal behavior if more opportunities were available to them. Young people who sense that they have a future and understand the door that they must pass through to get there do not join gangs. Scarce opportunities diminish hope leaving many young people to gain financially through illicit means.
There is no panacea for this growing South King County issue. We must all lend ourselves to this effort: Law enforcement, local government, schools, community and human services organizations, and the broader community.
Initiatives that extend opportunities and mentorship are effective and have a substantial return of investment. For example, programs that intervene early in a child’s life and prepare him for school results in gang violence prevention.
Reports have shown that for every dollar we invest in early childhood programs, we end up saving $7 in future criminal justice funding.
Tutoring programs that help identify challenges in the classroom and provide an appropriate path for a high school diploma will keep kids from joining gangs.
Partnerships with community colleges and local businesses that expose young people to careers and enable them to be financially independent provide a sustainable alternative to selling drugs.
These are just some examples of the type of opportunities we must expand for our young people if we are realistically going to address gang violence.
King County response
In the wake of the Kent shootings, area police chiefs, the King County Sheriff’s Office and federal agencies immediately began meeting and working intensely together. The result has been the creation of a South King County Gang Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to reduce violence by pursuing and arresting the gang members.
But enforcement is just one approach to reducing gang violence. It is a widespread belief within the law enforcement community and in local government that we can’t “arrest our way out of this.” It takes a real commitment to prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts working along with appropriate and clear enforcement.
Also in response to the shootings, the King County Council funded targeted strategies aimed at gang prevention and intervention. One of the projects receiving funding is the South County Gang Project that works with gang involved youth helping them earn their high school diploma or GED and find jobs. This is a great example of a program that expands options for young people, works with families to create better support, and partners with our schools to provide guidance and assistance.
Feeling safe in our communities is paramount. As King County begins its budget process this fall, we will continue to prioritize strategies to rid our communities of gang violence.
Steve Strachan, former Kent police chief, is King County Sheriff. Reach him at 206) 296-4155 or email@example.com.
Reach King County Councilmember Julia Patterson at 206-296-1005 or firstname.lastname@example.org