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Tacoma survey points to serious gang problem along I-5

Tacoma city officials knew they had a gang problem, and a survey published this week has brought out new worries.

The survey, called The Tacoma Gang Project, found 651 active gang members and associates within the city. The survey also uncovered that gang recruitment happens as early as middle school. North of Tacoma, King County reports 10,000 gang members within 140 active criminal street gangs and an increase of 165 percent in gang related crimes.

“There is lots of gang activity up and down the I-5 corridor,” said King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.

The City of Tacoma made its survey available to the public on Monday. It's designed to better understand Tacoma's gang involvement and activity so officials can figure out how to reduce gang activity.

The assessment looked at different demographics of gang members living in the city, the crimes committed, programs to get them out of gangs and the attraction of the lifestyle — especially in youth.

The Tacoma Gang Project found gangs are most active in five of Tacoma’s eight major neighborhoods — South Tacoma, South End, Eastside, Central and New Tacoma. Gangs are often involved in weapon and drug crimes.

"The Tacoma Gang Project was created to get a baseline assessment of what our gang problem is in Tacoma based on data not what we thought we knew," said Victoria Woodards, Tacoma City Councilmember and chair of the Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee. "It is very important that we focus our efforts on middle schools because that is where kids make the decision to join a gang."

Woodards said the study was conducted to improve efforts to undercut gang growth and stresses the importance of giving Tacoma youth alternative choices to gang life.

Details of the study

The Tacoma Gang Project found 651 active gang members and associates within the city, most of whom are affiliate with four major gangs — Bloods, Crips, Nortenos and Surenos.

Of those gangs the majority of individuals identify themselves as Crip-affiliated — 51.5 percent.

  • Bloods — 114 total members and associates
  • Crips — 335 total members and associates
  • Nortenos — 5 total members and associates
  • Surenos — 108 total members and associates
  • Other — 89 total members and associates

Males make up the majority of gangs, holding 96.9 percent of the population.
The majority of gang affiliates are over the age of 18 — 91.5 percent, but recruiting juveniles is a rising problem.

  • 12 to 14 — 7 total members and associates
  • 15 to 17 — 48 total members and associates
  • 18 to 20 — 151 total members and associates
  • 21 to 25 — 227 total members and associates
  • 26 to 30 — 121 total members and associates
  • Over 30 — 97 total members and associates

Targeting kids

The Tacoma Gang Project revealed middle school students are the prime age for gang recruitment. With this information available better gang prevention tactics are targeted.

As reported in an earlier KPLU story, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Stickland said 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 play sports can be involved peripherally," Stickland said.

Around King County

According to King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, there are 10,000 gang members within 140 active criminal street gangs across the county. Gang crimes have increased 165 percent since 2005. Last year alone 802 gang related incidents were reported.

“There is lots of gang activity up and down the I-5 corridor,” says Dunn. “There are really no boundaries for gangs, they’re all connected and cross county line quite a bit.”

On April 9th,Dunn introduced legislation to assist law enforcement combat criminal street gangs threatening King County communities.

The proposed legislation would establish anti-criminal street gang emphasis areas, giving judges the ability to prohibit individuals convicted of gang-related activity from entering certain high-impact gang areas defined by the County Council.

“Illegal gang activity is on the rise and has put our communities at risk,” Dunn said on the county's website. “These ordinances will give law enforcement another tool to use against those suspected of gang-related activity. It’s a giant step in the right direction and I urge my colleagues to support its immediate adoption.”

Junior Communication major at Pacific Lutheran University.