Renton and other cities reorganize task force to address rising South King County gang violence

Gang violence is on the rise in all of South King County. Regional leaders, including Renton officials, got together on Tuesday, May 10 to discuss how to get ahead of the issue.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus convened a meeting last week that was attended by South King County mayors, police chiefs, city managers, city administrators and staff from Auburn, Algona, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Pacific, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila, as well as the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is not just a Federal Way problem or a Kent problem,” Ferrell said Wednesday. “This is a King County problem.”

Backus said in a news release South King County has already experienced 16 gun homicides, 48 other shootings in which victims were wounded, and almost 100 incidents of reported shots fired in the last few months.

In mid-April, Arturo Marcial-Alvarez of Kent was killed in a drive-by shooting in Federal Way. Police later arrested suspects from Kent, Burien and Seattle, with one of them as young as 15 years old. Investigators believe the suspects are in a rival gang and that they killed the victim in retaliation.

Ferrell said the most recent Federal Way shooting, in which two men were injured, on May 4, is also believed to be a case of gang-related retaliation for something that happened in Seattle.

“We’ve got shootings, multiple in Seattle, Renton, Kent and Burien and all over, and many of these are connected,” Ferrell said. “It is absolutely required of us as elected leaders and chiefs of police to get together and really figure out ways to coordinate information and streamline this information sharing.”

Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang said the coordinated effort among South King County cities to take on gang violence is not something that’s occurred before. While each agency has worked with the FBI, this collaboration, which will include working with the King County Prosecutor’s Office on stricter penalties, is unprecedented.

First, the Valley Narcotics Enforcement Task Force will be refocused to become the Valley Enforcement Gangs and Narcotics task force. That group is supported by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Then, local police chiefs will also hold weekly meetings for up-to-date information sharing.

“Here at FWPD, we’re using our Special Investigations Unit and gang officers to address specific individuals and target homes in Federal Way,” Hwang said, adding that he’s excited about the intel meetings as they will be “critical.”

While Ferrell wouldn’t identify the gangs in the South King County area so as not to increase their status, he did say they are allying themselves with other gangs and are in a warfare. Specifically, “the Hispanic gang conflict occurring right now” started last year and began in another part of the county and was “territorial in nature,” Ferrell added.

Identifying offenders, finding out where they live, learning about conflicts within gangs and arresting gang members will be a key strategy in preventing anymore violence, Ferrell said.

“I’m doing this now because the weather is heating up as we get into summer,” Ferrell said. “What I will not do is tolerate, as mayor, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. We’re going to get ahead of it, on top of it and address it.”

Ferrell said there are no budget implications associated with the task force’s reorganization.

The task force’s next meeting will take place in Auburn at an undetermined date.