Blue Byline

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Councilwoman provides legitimate reason for gang study – federal money

Post by Brian O'Neill on April 11, 2012 at 6:29 am with 11 Comments »
April 11, 2012 6:29 am
When Tacoma City Councilwoman Victoria Woodards penned her recent letter to The Trib, it was probably with a release of some pent-up frustration. The letter was a response to the multitude, myself included, who criticized the council’s decision to spend $50,000 studying the city’s gang problem.
Councilwoman Victoria Woodards/ City of Tacoma website

Since the city released the results of their consultant’s research in early March, the City Council has been roasted for its alleged waste of scarce funds on such an obvious issue, none as much as Woodards. There was, I believe, good reason for the public reaction, especially when the results seemed so predictable (my own response was a succinct, “Duh”).

Surprisingly, (at least to me) Councilwoman Woodards’ restrained answer was worth the effort. In it she rightly acknowledged the skepticism which had accompanied the costs and contents of the report, conducted by Missouri-based Executive Interface, LLC. Woodards then addressed the need to quantify the gang problem not as a regional issue, but on a more manageable, Tacoma-sized, level. She made some solid points.

Woodards’ measured reasoning was not without some fluff, however: “What we found through the assessment is that we can effect the biggest change in Tacoma’s gang problem by intervening and offering options other than gang membership” How much did we waste on that nugget?

It was only when Woodards finally pointed out the real reason the City Council requested a study on the gang problem – to qualify for a federal grant – that the figurative wind fell out of my indignant sails. She wrote, “The U.S. Department of Justice has grant funding available for gang-prevention and intervention efforts. Without a community gang assessment, Tacoma cannot qualify for some of this funding.”

In other words, Tacoma needs to spend money studying a problem it already should have quantified, because the expense is necessary to qualify for federal money.  Ohhhh.

In fact, when I read my original column on the gang study (3/7), I found a comment that foreshadowed Councilwoman Woodards’ revelation. A reader with the account name Estuterry wrote, “Has it occurred to anyone that the possibiity exists there is funding of some sort which cannot be applied for until a study is completed and a criteria is met?”

Quite so, Estuterry. Or, should I say, Councilwoman Woodard! (Cue dramatic music…or not.)

All joking aside, the important issue of gang violence is worth the attention this sidebar brings to it. As for the report itself, the money is spent, the study is done and the gang problem is real. Councilwoman Woodards and her colleagues on the council should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that the expensive study will be a big enough lure to land a federal grant.

So excuse our stale wit, our “duhs” and general negativity. No more jokes about paying a consultant to see if Tacoma has an aroma or spending money on a test for salt in the Sound. You have put us (or at least me) in our place.

For now.

Leave a comment Comments → 11
  1. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, you were right to question the “study”, even though your original criticism may have been for the wrong reason.

    Since you’re a part of a gang task force unit, I suspect you were offended that the “study” may have been questioning if gang activity was really an issue.

    However, even if this “study” was instead being done as a requirement of the grant application, it wasn’t a requirement to have to spend $50,000.00 on the study! The real experts on gang activities are the people who live in those neighborhoods. The city could have done it’s own study, internally, and in fact I believe the city already HAD a study completed which already met the requirements for this application.

    I’ll bet that the company we paid, for this “study”, does the same thing all over the nation and promotes themselves specifically for the purpose of helping towns get federal grants (where there’s grant money to be had, parasite companies pop up to latch on to them and this company probably exists indirectly but largely on such Homeland Security grant opportunities). In fact, I’d be curious to know if we went to them, or if that company came to us with the idea.

    Also, every time we receive federal grant money it just ends up costing us more in the long run. For example (mark my words) the state-of-the-art armored car the Tacoma council just voted to approve just last night (which we’re acquiring likely because we had left-over Fema money to use up) will certainly cost us more in the long-run from maintenance, proprietary contracts, costly training, upkeep and upgrades… all for a piece of unnecessary equipment we likely never use or will use inappropriately.

    Brian, it seems ingenuous for you to suddenly support the study now that you know it might get more money for your particular unit. Whether we spend money to get money, or not, neither matters if the grant money is acquired for contrived reasons…. if we’re simply coming up with ways to spend money just because it’s there, then it’s all a waste of money. Spending local money to get federal money (“just because it’s there”) is precisely why this city, this state and this country is in debt (and is not solving gang problems).


  2. BlaineCGarver says:

    I truly wonder why gang members can’t be pursued and arrested just like any other criminal cabal. Could it be, GASP, they are afraid to tread on Minority Toes?

  3. tree_guy says:

    According to the study, nobody belonging to a latino gang came forward to provide any information. Furthermore, I’m not sure how they determined that the few people claiming to have gang affiliations really were gang members. The methodology was a little off, but when you’re building a utopia you’ve got to cut some corners.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for all the comments.

    EW- I wholeheartedly agree that the use of this expensive study to garner federal money is a wasteful endeavor, but the onus is on the federal government that controls that money. It’s much harder to hold the feds accountable for waste, as we all know. This is the system in place, and when you need the money for good works, well, you need it.

    Blaine- Gang members are pursued and arrested MORE aggressively than other criminals. The study and any subsequent grant money will be used to augment or create additional gang-related programs intended as intervention, prevention and enforcement. Because of the damage they do, gang members deserve that attention.

    TGuy- I don’t know how Tacoma conducted this study, nor do I know how they specifically process their intelligence on the criminal street gangs in the city. I do know that if a research group came to my jurisdiction they would have a tough time reproducing the knowledge we’ve amassed over the last several years.

  5. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Sorry, but I am not appeased by the knowledge that there is federal money to burn provided local taxes are spent to buy the fuse.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    It was not meant to appease but to inform.

  7. Misunderestimated says:

    This is still outrageous: Tacoma spending money it doesn’t have in order to get money from the Federal Government that it doesn’t have.
    Why not just keep locking these clowns up, get them their 3 strikes and put them away permanently?

  8. scott0962 says:

    A $50,000 study so the city can qualify for “free” Federal grant money? Federal money is not free, as anyone who files a tax return can attest.

    Also, Federal money comes with strings attached in the form of paperwork required to account for how it’s spent. How much extra work is that going to require and at what cost to the city’s tax payers–and if the council says no problem, the existing staff can handle it, that would raise the question of why the existing staff is so under-utilized that it has extra time to devote to the task.

  9. slarssen says:

    The Tacoma Weekly isn’t prone to missing important details when they cover city hall. Or making the decision to omit them at the beginning of an article.

    “A major reason for conducting the assessment is that one is required to be eligible for many grants to fund anti-gang efforts.”

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    Good catch there, slar. However, when you take up your career as a professional fact checker, I would recommend that you lodge your complaint with the Trib reporters instead of the opinion page writers. We’re operating off the same sheet of music as everyone else.

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