Cops say King County gun violence is down — for now
After two short months and a series of arrests, Western Washington law enforcement officials believe they have significantly reduced gun violence that had previously risen to “unprecedented levels.”
“Two months are a relatively short period of time to measure results, but we believe our efforts are causing the shooting incidents to trend in a positive direction,” said Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas.
In early May, it was announced that a range of agencies — local and federal — teamed up to tackle a spike in gun violence throughout King County.
Chief Thomas said that most of the issue stems from gang-related conflicts. He explained that the gun violence from South Seattle to the Pierce County line, in the first four months of 2017, had cops startled: 16 gun-related homicides; 48 shootings where people survived; 100 shots fired with evidence found; 200-300 other shots reported.
Last week, the multi-agency effort culminated in a sweep of offenders believed to be responsible for the gun violence. A total of 26 individuals were taken into custody. In addition to that sweep, the US Marshals Service led agencies in another range of arrests. People with felony warrants, and others with probable cause for felony weapons violations were taken into custody.
Gun violence: Before and after
Gun violence numbers in the first four months of 2017 vs. the past two months of multi-agency effort (before / after):
• 65+ / 36 per month — average general gun-related incidents
• 4 / 1 per month — average gun related homicides
• 11 / 4 per month – shootings with injured who survived
• 25 / 14 per month – shots fired causing property damage
Youth targets and more violence ahead
Despite the sweep of arrests, Chief Thomas said that there is a flaw in the juvenile justice system that gangs are exploiting. He also is concerned about the summer months ahead, when violent crimes tend to rise.
“Much of the violence we have spoken of has been carried out by juveniles,” Thomas said. “We are told by investigators that juveniles are even being recruited by gang leaders to carry out violent acts because there is little accountability for gun violations in our juvenile justice system.”
Seven juveniles were taken into custody during the arrests last week – five are already back on the streets, the chief noted.
One example: Two teens – a 15- and 16-year-old – recently got into a fight on a school bus. The incident resulted with the two boys pulling a gun on the bus driver and threatening his life. The gun was fully loaded and they had an extra 30-round magazine.
One teen received a 30-day detention, 20 hours of community service, and a 6-month probation for the incident. The other teen got a 20 day detention. The gun they used was later discovered to have been stolen from a home in Pierce County.
“A lot of the guns we are finding are getting into the wrong hands because of burglaries,” Chief Thomas said. “Whether they are breaking into businesses or residential houses and people are not securing their weapons effectively.”
Chief Thomas also stressed that agencies are on alert for the coming summer season when such crimes generally spike.
“Summer is now upon us and these next few months are where we traditionally see an increase in violent crime,” he said. “In addition, our detectives are telling us that there is talk on the street of upcoming and impending violence brewing between groups and gangs.”
Despite the concern for summer violence, King County Sheriff John Urquhart said that he is confident the multi-agency force will take down violent offenders. He had a message Monday for shooters: “We’re gonna get ya.”
“What’s different this year is that all these local police agencies, plus the Seattle Police Department, plus the King County Sheriff’s Department, ATF, DEA, US Marshals Service, the U.S. prosecutor, the King County prosecutor, we’ve all come together,” he said. “We’re are meeting and are going to get out there and we will catch these shooters. And we are going to take those guns off the street. If you have guns, you are going to jail – if you’re an adult, you’re going to jail, if you’re a juvenile, we’ll put you in juvie. You may not stay too long and that’s a shame, but that’s what we are going to do.”
But his message wasn’t just for offenders. Urquhart addressed parents and homeowners as well.
“Get your kids out of gangs, keep them away from guns or your kids are going to get killed,” he said. “It’s really very simple. You’re kids are going to get killed.”
“If you are a homeowner and you have a gun, good for you, but for God’s sake, keep it locked up,” Urquhart added. “None of these shooters are walking into Wade’s Gun Shop and buying a gun. They’re buying them on the street and these guns are all stolen. They are stolen from houses where people do not lock up their guns. People are dying because of that.”