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Street gangs in King County are luring younger recruits

Criminal street gangs in King County are starting to recruit younger members. That's one of the trends the Sheriff's Office says it's seeing. During a briefing, a gang detective told the King County Council that there are now 116 active street gangs operating in the county with 15,000 members.

Detective Joe Gagliardi, who's worked on gang related issues for more than a decade, told the King County Council that he's seen the changes toward younger recruits first hand.


“I remember in 2007 or so, I talked to a kid who said they wouldn’t let him join his gang until he was 14. That gang had a specific age," Gagliardi said. "This summer, that gang was putting on kids at 10 years old, so they’ve obviously changed that rule."


Gagliardi says younger recruits are attractive to gangs because they are less likely to receive harsh punishment for committing crimes and can be useful to the gang for longer periods. And, he said, juveniles are just "easier to mold and manipulate" than adults.


He said while places like Los Angeles have long had a reputation for very young kids being initiatied into gangs, it's a more recent phenomenon in King County.


The King County gang unit was restarted this year after having been eliminated by budget cuts in 2014. Gagliardi said the new unit, which was included in the 2019-2020 budget, is still getting up and running. Gagliardi said there are specific criteria in Washington for what determines a street gang. A group has to identify with a common name or symbol and have commission of criminal activity as its primary purpose. And, he said, for someone to be considered a member of a gang in Washington they have to take part in criminal activity. He says that's different than some jurisdictions that consider someone to be a gang member if they frequent gang territory or associate with people in gangs.


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.