Northwest “under siege” by gangs
Look around your neighborhood. If you’re like most people, you don’t have gang members living on your street. The majority of cities in Washington don’t have a major problem with gangs. But for those that do, violence is a “daily threat to families,” according to police officers.
Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, says some neighborhoods in the cities of Yakima, and Spokane, and a few communities in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties are “under siege” from gangs.
“The folks who live there will go home after work on a hot summer day and they’ll have to stay inside until the next morning because it’s just not safe to come out in the streets,” says Pierce. “It’s awful.”
Dora Trevino lived in one of those areas, and didn’t even know it, in Quincy, Washington not far from Wenatchee.
“Eleven years ago my son died,” she says.
Trevino says her son Auggie was not in a gang. He was active in sports, was well-liked in school, and avoided crime. He made a fatal mistake one day after school when he got into a fight with a gang member.
Three blocks from home, three blocks from school, he was shot in the head. He later died at Harborview. He was 17.
“I held him, in my arms,” his mother says choking back tears, “and I promised him I would do what every I could to make changes.”
A tougher anti-gang bill is in the works for Washington. It’ll be one of the first pieces of legislation introduced when the session begins January 10, 2011.
One change would ban gang members from some streets in communities with gang problems.
“They can be denied access to certain areas during certain hours, for example. They can’t be in a small neighborhood where they’re engaging in gang activity or doing recruiting from 6:00 at night until 5:00 the next morning,” says Pierce.
Will gangsters follow a law that tells them to avoid some streets? That’s unlikely. What that part of the legislation really does is make it easier for prosecutors to go after gang members.
Another change would give city and county governments the authority to shut down gang houses by taking property owners to court. They would have to end the gang activity that’s going on there or forfeit the property. It would also increase the penalty for gang graffiti from a gross misdemeanor to a felony.
Police and prosecutors say these are tools they need to reduce and eliminate the gangs. The legislation carries a $10 million price tag. What if the tougher law doesn’t go through?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt they [gangs] will continue to creep and expand their territory if we don’t do something and stop it and there won’t be any communities that I can refer to that don’t have a gang problem,” says Pierce.
Around the area, police have identified 60 active gangs in Snohomish County and 850 gang members. King County’s prosecutor says there are “scores” of gangs here that are a “constant presence in some communities.” In Pierce County, 51 gang members have been prosecuted for crimes this year.
A local website – Northwest Gangs – tracks street gang activity in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The person behind the site says he’s researched hundreds of gangs, and lists them by name and by map location.