Opinion

County needs to take action on gang violence | Commentary

On a Saturday afternoon last July more than 500 people were enjoying a local car show. Families were spending a summer day together at a car show that was supposed to be enjoyable and safe. In the middle of it all a fight broke out, shots were fired, and families scattered and ran for their lives. When the shooting stopped and the smoke cleared, more than a dozen people were injured and transported to local hospitals.

The cause of this bloodshed was a number of gangs who decided to shoot it out in broad daylight at a public event. This scenario took place right here in King County. It is a scene played out all too many times in recent memory here in King County and is a direct result of the sharp increase in criminal gang activity.

The numbers are staggering. According to the King County Sherriff’s Office there were a reported 802 gang related incidents in 2011, a 165 percent increase in gang-related crime since 2005. In 2008 and 2009 there were 29 gang related homicides in our county. It is estimated that there are currently 10,000 gang members in King County, part of an estimated 140 active criminal street gangs countywide.  This is a disturbing trend that must be stopped and it must be stopped now.

On April 9, I introduced two new ordinances aimed at taking on the issue of gang violence head on.  If adopted, this legislation will be another important tool that law enforcement and judges can use in their battle against the spread of illegal gang activity.

The first ordinance establishes criminal street gang emphasis areas and gives judges the ability to prohibit individuals convicted of gang related activity from entering high impact gang areas, as defined by the County Council.  This is modeled after other successful legislation that gives Judges the ability to restrict individuals convicted of drug- or prostitution-related offenses from entering specifically designated areas.  The second ordinance fills a gap in state law in relation to gang intimidation – and provides for the safety of all kids and young adults trying to stay out of a gang.

While we protect young people attending school, the current law leaves people not enrolled in a public or alternative school vulnerable and does not specifically protect them from gang intimidation.

Overall these ordinances alone will not solve this crisis; a strong emphasis on prevention and education are two aspects of this fight that cannot be ignored.  But this new legislation can provide law enforcement with valuable tools in this fight for the lives and safety of young men and women in King County.

Gangs are doubly tragic because they not only create an unsafe community for families in King County, but they also can take bright promising youth down the wrong path.  Together, we can give law enforcement the tools they need to combat gang related activity and give at-risk kids a path to a better future.

Reagan Dunn represents the King County Council’s Ninth District, including part of  Renton.

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