Gangs are here in Snohomish County

By Sara Bruestle | Mar 16, 2016

The following article is the seventh in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on teen issues. Called “Turn Up The Volume,” the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. – Ed.

A 17-year-old died after he was shot in the head last year at a house party in Everett.

Although it isn’t clear if the teen was in a gang, Snohomish County Sheriff’s detectives arrested three teenagers who were believed to have crashed a party thrown by rival gang members.

The detectives said the victim was shot during a confrontation between rival gangs.

Gangs are here.

The Snohomish Regional Drug & Gang Task Force, which targets drug trafficking street gangs in Snohomish County, works with local police departments on gang-related cases.

“They’re here, all right,” Cmdr. Pat Slack said, who leads the task force. “We’ve seen everything from their pants hanging down around their butts to murder.”

Slack said police have found gangs in every city in the county, but that it’s nearly impossible to count them.

“We have no idea how many there are,” he said, adding that the gang population is transient here. “Whether there’s a ton of them or just a few of them, we don’t know. It’s really hard to say.

“Gangs don’t register with law enforcement, so we don’t have any way to track them down.”

Though there is no official count, Slack said police regularly arrest and book into Snohomish County Jail gang members with affiliations with up to 13 different gangs.

“They’re here and we do monitor them,” he said. “We arrest them and try to keep them under control.”

The mission of the task force is to reduce the number of drug traffickers and gang members – which are often one and the same – through investigation, apprehension and conviction.

“Other detectives, if they’re working on an assault or homicide case and it has gang ties, then we’ll assist them on that case,” Slack said. “We work to hold them (gang members) accountable for their actions.”

There are about 30 officers on the task force who work with detectives to prosecute drug traffickers and street gang members, often helping to coordinate enforcement efforts between police departments.

They not only work on multi-agency investigations, they offer support, in-department training, and share resources and information on drugs and gangs.

Slack said gangs in Snohomish County tend to emulate Southern California Hispanic-style gangs, such as the Surenos (SUR 13) or Mara Salvatrucha.

Hispanic gangs are based on respect. While most members are Hispanic, membership is not always race specific. Most members are between 15 and 19 years old.

“Most of the gang cases we work on are juveniles,” Slack said. “That doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous, actually, they’re more dangerous because they just don’t care.

“If you see a 15- or 16-year-old kid with a gun, you better bet your life that he’s dangerous.”

In these gangs, only the weak call 911. There is no cooperation with the police, meaning they are the ones who right the wrongs.

No act of disrespect goes unanswered or unpunished. Fights spark from dirty looks, hand signs or a simple remark.

Rivalry can manifest as conflict between groups as much as within groups. Young members may start a fight to prove themselves, while older members may want to retain control.

Gangs replace the need for family, survival, security, social acceptance and emotional response. Most members believe their family members threaten the gang’s cohesiveness.

“Everybody wants to belong,” Slack said. “Some of us join the Y, others go out and become part of a gang.”

Police know the gang problem can’t be solved with enforcement alone.

Several groups, including the Casino Road Stakeholders, have worked for many years to steer teens away from gangs by offering different activities. Their efforts have led to the teaming up of churches, schools, law enforcement, businesses and nonprofit organizations from throughout the county.

The YMCA and United Way provide after school programs. The Boys & Girls Clubs play an important role, too. Cocoon House also has an outreach program for kids on the street.

In last year’s shooting, a 19-year-old gang member was booked into Snohomish County Jail for first-degree murder. He reportedly admitted involvement in the killing.

Two more suspects, both 16, were arrested and booked into the Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

The alleged shooter reportedly admitted that “the three of them decided to go to the party, confront the rival gang and ‘shoot them up.”

If you or someone you know is in a gang, and you’d like to get them out, or to report gang activity, call the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force at 425-388-6666.

Warning signs that your child may be involved in a gang

• Admits to “hanging out” with kids in gangs, but denies membership;

• Shows a new or unusual interest in one or two particular colors but strongly dislikes another;

• Purchases or wears a specific color of clothing or must wear a specific logo;

• Has new or unusual interest in gangster-influenced music, videos, movies or websites;

• Use of unusual hand signals to communicate with friends;

• Displays specific artwork or gang symbols on school books, clothes, walls or tattoos

• Has unexplainable physical injuries that could be linked with fight-related bruising or injured hands and knuckles;

• Carries unexplained cash and has new clothing, jewelry or high-end electronics;

• Possesses a weapon;

• Will not let parent view their social media page or cellphone (Instagram/Facebook);

• In trouble at school or is contacted by law enforcement; and

• Begins exhibiting negative behaviors like: Withdrawing from family members and activities, declining school performance and attendance, consistently disobeys rules, breaks curfew and stays out late, becomes secretive and non-communicative, exhibits signs of drug or alcohol use, and adopts gang-style slang language.

Information provided by the Everett Police Department.

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