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Tacoma gangs recruit middle schoolers

HilltopAtNight.jpg
KPLU Photo
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Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood, where 31 men were arrested for gang activity in a police sweep in 2010. A new gang assessment survey shows middle school kids are targeted for recruitment in Tacoma.

Kids start joining gangs in middle school, according to a year long assessment of gang activity in Tacoma. The  gang assessment report was presented to the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday.

The report showed a gap between police statistics on gang membership and other data gathered. Going by police contacts, for example, it would appear criminal activity related to gangs mostly involved people in their 20's. 

But the Tacoma Gang Project project revealed a large gang membership among younger kids. For example, one of the surveys they drew their conclusions from was the statewide Washington Department of Health's "healthy youth survey." That survey revealed that among Tacoma 8th graders, 8 percent reported being in gangs. The gang assessment report also indicates that middle school is the prime age for gang recruitment.

City Council members say having that information verified will help them better target gang prevention dollars. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland says she would like more money to be spent on building positive neighborhood attachments by bringing competitive sports back to middle schools in the Tacoma Public Schools.

"For a lot of kids, that’s where the neighborhood attachment exists, that’s where the parents get involved and that’s where kids who don’t even play sports can be involved peripherally," she said.

Strickland's proposal includes competitive football and volleyball teams in the middle schools.

Tacoma middle school students surveyed also said drugs and guns are very easy to get. Strickland says while she knows it's a "political hot potato she'd like to see the problem investigated.

"How do people get access to illegal guns so easily. This is not a conversation about taking away anyone's 2nd Amendment rights, but it is way too easy to get access to illegal guns in this society," she told the Tacoma City Council."

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.