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.”
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?