Officials to SMN: Gangs, social media to blame for rising PNW teen crime

Oct 31, 2023, 1:17 PM | Updated: 4:49 pm

A Kent Police Department vehicle...

A Kent Police Department vehicle (Photo courtesy of Kent Police Department)

(Photo courtesy of Kent Police Department)

A pair of elite law enforcement officials say gangs, staff shortages, and social media are to blame for increasing teen crime rates in the area.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion and Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla were on Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Newsradio Tuesday.

When addressing the increase in teen crime, Padilla said gangs have a lot to do with it.

“Teens want to be part of something. And the drug trafficking is a huge part of it,” he said.

“But we can’t discount the impacts of social media. Right? When we see these stories, or we see TikTok videos are things on social media, like with pop culture, and I hate to put it this way, but it feels like these crimes become a popular thing to do amongst our youth.”

Manion agreed but added that accountability needs to be added to solve the problem.

More on teen crime: Teens arrested in Federal Way purse-snatching robberies that targeted the elderly

“We’ve talked a lot about bringing a two-pronged approach to addressing gun violence and holding accountable the individuals who are causing harm in our community,” she said. “They have some preventative measures where they’re trying to reach people before they become victims or perpetrators of violence.”

Manion said that so far this year, King County has had 399 total shooting victims, 91 of those have been fatal and 308 have been non-fatal.

“Now those are numbers involving adults and juveniles,” she said. “But clearly, we have a gun problem.”

Padilla explained that Kent is tracking violent crime stats and demographics.

“We are seeing the offenders seem seemingly be younger and younger, more persistently. You may have been tracking recently, some of the carjackings and home invasion robberies, and we’re seeing offenders be in that teenage realm, which is really concerning,” she said.

‘Choose my life over a phone’: Teens kidnapped, robbed in Greenwood

Are policy and staffing issues having an impact?

Padilla explained that it is important to examine whether policies are having the impact we want.

“It looks like a lot of it seems to be crime of opportunity,” he said. “I will say that there seems to be a belief that’s out there that it’s easier to commit crime right now. I don’t know how to quantify that. But when there’s a feeling that it is easier to commit crime, that human nature says that you’re going to see more of it.”

Both also brought up police staffing as a key issue. The state ranks near the bottom of the list of police officers per capita.

“We are woefully understaffed in this region in the state. We are close to almost half of what we should be just to beat the average in our country, to paint a picture, just to be average in terms of what other states staff in terms of law enforcement,” Padilla said. “We need 7,000 new officers today and we’ve been this way for 13-plus years.”

“We need law enforcement,” Manion explained. “They’re important partners to our work.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Listen to the podcast here.

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Officials to SMN: Gangs, social media to blame for rising PNW teen crime