Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Expensive study unnecessary to answer gang question

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 7, 2012 at 9:54 am with 12 Comments »
March 9, 2012 8:10 am

The long-anticipated answer has finally arrived, and now it is official: Tacoma has a gang problem.

It seems obvious at this point that the Tacoma City Council’s decision to spend $50,000 on a study to determine the extent of the gang problem was a bad idea. At best it was a well-intentioned exercise in redundancy. Let’s look at some of the results:

  • Gangs infest more than half the city
  • Gangsters sell drugs and use guns for violent crime
  • Youths are recruited into gangs in middle school

If the authors of the full 316-page report, Missouri-based Executive Interface, LLC, are looking for a title for this thick tome, may I suggest, “Stuff About Gangs Cops Already Knew”?

If that seems too wordy, perhaps a simple, “Duh.”

Gang graffiti on Tacoma police car/ TNT photo

That sentiment also appears to summarize some 201 reader comments (at last count) on the Trib article (3/3) describing the study. The vast majority were livid at the expenditure of dwindling funds for such obvious results.

As the council should know, Tacoma is certainly not the only city in the country, much less Washington State, to suffer from criminal street gangs. My agency struggles with this issue as well, and as a gang enforcement officer I am all too familiar with the particular gangs and the individual members in my jurisdiction. But there are other cities across the country – Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Miami to name just a few – that have had far worse struggles with gang violence. In some cases, these cities have found workable solutions.

The best results have been achieved through a partnership within the affected sectors: Social services, schools, youth programs and law enforcement. These partnerings, or task forces, when entered into freely and wholeheartedly by each stakeholder, succeed because they tackle the problem from every direction. Social services hold parents accountable for their gang involved offspring by dangling needed benefits in lieu of improved behavior. Teachers and administrators provide an early warning signal of gang activity at their schools. Youth programs use referrals from schools and police to target at-risk youth and provide them with alternative activities. Law enforcement officers monitor the gang members, and have the resources to provide either the carrot (incentives to continue a gang-free life) or the stick (detention).

Programs such as these have been viable and available for years. Gang experts routinely make the circuit through regions, touting the success of their programs to gang unit cops and administrators. These consultants, who are usually a mix of retired gang investigators and psychologists, are well versed in the gang culture, its attractions and its weaknesses. The reason they seek out law enforcement officers, rather than politicians, is that the gang cops know their own local brand of criminal better than anyone else.

In light of this, the city council’s decision to spend the city’s scarce resources on an independent study is a real head-scratcher. Cops know the kids (and adults) involved in the gangs; they know their parents; they have met the youth program directors, social workers and school staff who are also deeply entrenched in this problem.

Councilwoman Victoria Woodards told The Trib that the city should “really take a look at the resources we have and provide our kids with the best possible chance to stay out of gangs.” Great idea. Next time, go ask your cops what the problem is. Invite your youth group coordinators to offer solutions. Invite social services and school administrators into the discussion.

With so many integrated anti-gang programs around the country, and with the involvement of all the key players, a solid plan is sure to form. Now all you need is a little money.

Where’s that $50,000 when you need it?

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. tree_guy says:

    Brian, your column is spot on. The real purpose of the $50K study, it seems to me, is for the council to provide for the public the appearance of doing something. It’s all smoke and mirrors. As you say, the gang officers already know whats going on and if there is any missing information there are over 500 books available on the internet search on this exact subject. Doubt if even one councilmember will even read the full 300 page report. If its of any comfort, this isn’t the first ridiculous $50K study the city has engaged in and probably won’t be the last. Thanks voters for your apathetic involvement in the selection of council members.

  2. easypeazy says:

    We could always use that money to fund a vigilante squad and erradicate the gangs. At least we’d know who was doing what…

  3. BlaineCGarver says:

    No season, no bag limit,or size restrictions. I can’t believe that Cops have to watch a person/persons forever before arresting them. See one transaction and BOOM. The WarLords will move on if their soldiers can’t do business.

  4. Chippert says:

    My guess is that the consultants already had the report 90% written when they signed the contract. All they had to do was add a little local information like the names of the gangs in Tacoma and, voila!, they could pocket $50,000 of taxpayer money.

    Brian, you hit this one on the head. Despite the Wyatt Earps with their all-compassing answer to every problem: “Kill ‘em all!”, the gang problem can be solved. First you have to ask why these youth join gangs in the first place and then you have to answer what will keep them away. It does not take a new study to find this out. These questions have been answered definitively over and over again.

  5. Also include in your list of resources the elderly and
    the disabled. If there any two groups who are intimidated
    and harassed by gangs it’s these.

  6. saywhat253 says:

    they r in it for the money wth cant u see they want 24 in rims and glocks and chains around der nec

  7. BlaineCGarver says:

    Chip, please call me Mr. Earp. Tell ya what, when you’re about to get shot, or a knife in the gut (this is after having a meaningful conversation with a few of the local Crips) you better hope someone with a weapon and a big set is around to pull your ashes out of the fire. If you knew anything at all, you would realize that once in a gang, the little thugs are more afraid to risk leaving the gang as opposed to going straight and leaving the life. Once you get it in your head that organized crime (and gangs) operate on the principle of FEAR, everything else will logically fall into place, and you will purchase,train with, and legally carry a firearm.

  8. olympicmtn says:

    Here’s some history from your elected leaders. When Ladenburg was executive his wife Connie sat on a committee with the council, school, parks and tried to dispute where truant kids come from and even noted that “it is not a Pierce County problem!!!!” Ms. Connie had to be reminded that the Tacoma Mall had kids from Puyallup, Graham, DuPont, the Peninsula all over and not just kids from Tacoma. She seemed to suggest her husband Johnny had no reason to care about gangs or truants. Ms. Connie wants to run for Pierce County now… she is the worse politician. Fact crime rises during the day when kids are truant and wondering the streets. Maybe Ms. Connie and Johnny will get a clue especially when cops patrol their block to ensure their safety… what about the safety of Tacoma residents. There be the history lesson.

  9. Has it occurred to anyone that the possibility exists there is funding of some sort which cannot be applied for until a study is completed and a criteria is met?
    Just say for instance there is a grant for funds to improve flood abatement for cities at risk. You need a study from an outside consultant to document the risk and make sure you meet the criteria for grant application. Once you have your study and meet the criteria, you can apply, and not until. Deadlines always apply, so you have to work quickly. There is a lot of demand for grant money.
    So MAYBE Tacoma needed the study to qualify for a designation of some sort to qualify for a program. Realize, a $50,000 study may potentially yield millions in funds for improvement to Tacoma. They don’t usually do studies unless there is a high likelihood their investment will bear fruit.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your comment, S2E. Your point is well taken, however I have yet to hear of a grant for which the council is applying that would be predicated on an expensive, independent study. Law enforcement agencies routinely apply for grants, both federal and private, that require verifiable crime stats. Yes, the books can get cooked, but that applies to a public agency as well as a private research group.

    Without further information it does appear that the council spent money to obtain information that it could have found by asking its own employees.

  11. True, the city can SAY it has a gang problem, and we can all accept that. Problem is, it has to be documented by an independent third party in order to count. Getting some agency states away to do the study and make that determination makes the claim of a gang problem more credible.
    If the city starts allocating even their own funds for gang related projects, some citizen will demand to know why a gang problem the city says it has takes priority over the potholes on their street. If the city can cite the independent study as evidence of the gang problem, it removes constituent complaints of misappropriated resources.
    Either way, now the city can focus resources toward the gang problem and maybe get assistance from programs already in place.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Hope so.

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