Gang-related violence is on the rise locally, according to Dan Donohoe, press secretary at the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Seattle Police Department has also released statistics of major crimes reported in the city. For this year through February, there have been nine homicides. For the same amount of time last year, there were only two reported homicides.
Overall, there has been an increase in total major crime in Seattle, according to the police report. Major crime includes homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, as well as burglary, larceny and car theft.
In the month of February alone, there were 472 crimes reported in the south precinct while there were 317 incidents reported in the southwest precinct.
According to police Detective Mark Jamieson, historically Asian gangs were concentrated in West and South Seattle, where black gangs also have a presence.
“Gangs are so mobile these days,” said Jamieson. Gang activity isn’t contained to just one area.
Sorya Svy is the executive director of SafeFutures Youth Center, a nonprofit in West Seattle that offers programs targeted for low-income and multicultural communities. City officials founded the center in 1996 to target at-risk Southeast Asian youth. Since its creation, the program has expanded its services to serve a broader community.
Svy has worked with SafeFutures since 1997, nearly since its inception. The organization recruited Svy to work with Cambodian and Vietnamese gangs in the mid-1990s, and he has extensive experience working on gang and violence prevention.
Svy believes that gang-related crime has “been on the rise, and could potentially get worse,” because of the poor economy. Youth who are struggling during tough economic times or have parents that can’t make ends meet find solace in gangs.
At-risk youth turn to gangs for protection, camaraderie and because of economic motivations. According to Svy, “gang issues are deeper for Southeast Asians,” because in many instances, gang members are relatives or lifelong friends. “Retaliation is much worse,” he said.
In the summer of 2010, the Seattle Times reported on a police investigation in South Seattle regarding a shooting that they believed to be connected with the slaying of two men at Lake Sammamish State Park earlier that year. Police believed both incidents were connected to Asian gangs.
Svy also believes that most news media attention focuses on Seattle’s Central District where there is a concentration of black gangs, while Asian and Southeast Asian gang activity is often underreported.
According to Jamieson, detectives in the police department’s gang unit mostly deal with black gangs, but recent shootings in South Seattle were connected to Asian gangs.
Svy says that one of the biggest issues citywide and potentially countywide is that “it’s getting tougher for kids.” Budget constraints are limiting programs and resources available to at-risk youth.
The Washington State Legislature recently adjourned its special session after approving a budget that cut $300 million in spending, most notably in the social-services sector. Funding that was dedicated to violence prevention was cut, said Svy.
City and county cuts have also hurt programs that work on gang prevention. State and county cuts to funding have eliminated services to 105 young adults, said Svy.
The Seattle Police Department is trying to combat the issues related to gang violence, commented Jamieson. Dedicated gang detectives are proactive and patrol the streets, he explained. They also follow up on investigations and respond to all calls that may be gang-related.
The department also leads anti-violence initiatives in all of the precincts, said Jamieson. Over weekends, police officers patrol outside of nightclubs and bars where it is likely that violent crimes would occur.
Jamieson believes that Seattle is a safe city relative to other cities its size across the nation. He also believes that the current crime rate may appear exceptionally high because in previous years it has been unusually low.
In the meantime, Svy and his colleagues at SafeFutures continue to work with at-risk youth and to use their resources to further gang and violence prevention.
For more information, visit the center’s website is www.sfyc.net.