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Police chief answers: Does Bellevue have a gang problem?

(Sounder Bruce, Flickr Creative Commons)

Shots were fired near Bellevue’s Goldsmith Park in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 3. Police were called to the scene around 12:30 a.m. Officers found an 18-year-old boy, dead, shot multiple times.

That young man was later identified as Josue Flores. His death is being investigated as a homicide — the first homicide in Bellevue in about three years. Meanwhile, violent crime around the nearby Crossroads area has risen in recent months. Bellevue police have noticed.

Despite the growing prosperity that the Eastside metropolis is currently experiencing, the coinciding violent activity has some asking: Does Bellevue now have a gang problem?

“I cannot confidently come out today … and say this was a gang-related incident,” Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett told the Jason Rantz Show about Flores’ death. “However, some of the people that we believe that are involved in the violence, that we have seen in the Crossroads area, especially since January, have claimed or indicated gang affiliation if not membership.”

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“I don’t think there’s a community in our country that is not impacted by gang activity in one way or another,” he said. “Some communities have a full blown gang presence; others, the gang members travel through the community and prey on innocent victims. We have a group that has been in existence up in the Crossroads area for quite a while. They went pretty dormant for at least the time period that I’ve been here, and probably a couple of years preceding me. And we’ve seen that they’ve resurfaced and it appears they’re engaging in violent criminal behavior.”

Still, the chief argues, Bellevue is one of the safest cities in the Puget Sound region, if not the state or nation. What Bellevue is dealing with is no different than what many other cities are facing – criminal activity that does not adhere to city or county borders. Gangs and criminals don’t often plan their activity around city borders.

“For Bellevue, based on the activities that we’ve recently witnessed, especially since January, there is a core group of individuals that are identifying themselves (as gang members),” Mylett said. “And there’s a whole bunch of people that are trying to affiliate themselves with this particular group. So if you compare it to a major city … our issues are relatively small. But for Bellevue, it’s significant because we do not have that type of activity, routinely, in our city and we’re trying to ensure that this does not become routine because that’s unacceptable.”

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Mylett said he can only deal with the residents and crime in Bellevue.

“Gang membership prevention is getting involved with the youth that are at risk and that are easy prey for the gang members to target for recruitment,” he said. “And our focus is still in that area. But right now, I am focused on preventing another homicide in our city.”

“So the police department can’t do by itself,” he said. “We can’t solve this problem, we can’t arrest our way out of any problem.”

Mylett says that services for at-risk youth are needed and should be supported. He notes that the Eastside area, and Washington, has a wealth of programs to support youth and combat gang membership.

The Bellevue Police Department is still asking the community for any information related to Flores’ death. Tips can be called in to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. There is a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest for the homicide.

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