With a rise in violent gang activity in South King County over the last year, state lawmakers sought and secured funding in the new state budget to help prevent street gangs, especially among young people.
Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Reps. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines and Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, built on previous efforts to improve public safety and prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.
“Working on gang prevention and intervention policies for a few years, we’ve learned a great deal about how kids get drawn into juvenile gangs, and we need to focus on innovative practices to break the criminal cycle before it breaks our young people,” Orwall said. “These dollars will go toward research on best practices for effective interventions to keep young adults from getting involved in gang activity that harms not only themselves, their families and neighborhoods, but endangers entire communities.”
Gang activity forces people to live with the daily threat of intimidation and harassment. Crimes such as drug dealing, vandalism, theft of personal property and automobiles, assault, rape and murder are prevalent in communities where gang membership is on the rise. Even people who are not directly affected by gang-activity also share in the indirect costs such as lower property values and higher insurance premiums, and first-responders are increasingly vulnerable to personal injury or death when responding to gang-related crimes.
The new 2017-19 state budget approved at the end of June includes $1 million for a grant program for areas with the greatest criminal street gang problems. Grants are eligible to local governments and non-profit organizations who collaborate and can demonstrate effective prevention and intervention efforts in the past. Grant recipients are also required to report on how effective the funding has been for improving community safety and the effect it’s had on at-risk youth.
“Gang violence is not isolated to one area and affects all of us throughout South King County,” Fain said. “Providing young people with alternatives to gangs makes our neighborhoods safer and ensures a better life for at-risk youth now and in the future.”
In May, city officials and police chiefs from Auburn, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Renton and other South King County cities announced a joint task force following a rise in gang activity and violence in 2017. This includes the Valley Enforcement Gangs and Narcotics Task Force, which is supported by the FBI and other national agencies.
“We know that once a young person has gotten involved in a gang or the criminal justice system it is very difficult to shift course,” Pettigrew said. “Several years ago I was able to secure funding to support young adults in avoiding or moving away from gangs, helping young people avoid mistakes that can follow them for the rest of their lives. These programs have already made a difference in our communities and I am glad that we were able to continue funding this ongoing work.”
The lawmakers also secured $75,000 for the Juvenile Rehabilitation Program, part of the state Department of Social and Health Services, to collect and analyze data from juvenile gang and gun offenses. The results will allow state officials to better target solutions and improve prevention efforts. Following review, the department will also make research-based recommendations to the Legislature that could improve public safety.
“At a time when we are seeing a significant increase in gun violence in South King County – often with direct ties back to gang violence – I and other Police Chiefs applaud the Operating Budget funding by the Legislature to continue gang intervention grants, to update and fully populate a gang data-base to give us accurate information, and to help gather more detailed numbers regarding juvenile firearms usage,” said Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas. “I truly appreciate the bipartisan leadership of Senator Joe Fain and Representative Tina Orwall on this issue, as well as the work of other legislators such as Reps. Eric Pettigrew and Pat Sullivan.”