KENT, Wash. - A collaborative law enforcement effort targeting gun violence in South King County is showing promising trends. In the first four months of 2017, there were 16 gun-related homicides and 48 shootings in which people were hit but survived.
Fourteen local, state and federal agencies have been working on a task force to combat the gun violence.
"Over the past two months, we have seen a reduction in shooting incidents per month from over 65 per month average over the first four months down to 36 shootings per month in the past two months,” said Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas.
One area where he says police remain challenged is youth and firearms. Much of the violence has been carried out by juveniles recruited by gang leaders because there is little accountability for gun violations in the juvenile justice system.
“We are going to get out there and we are going to catch these shooters and we’re gonna take those off the streets,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “Our No. 2 message is to the parents of these juveniles. Get these kids out of gangs. Keep them away from guns, or your kids are gonna get killed."
Chief Thomas pointed to an incident in mid-March on a bus filled with 62 elementary kids as an example. Two teens were arrested after threatening to kill a bus driver with a fully loaded firearm with an additional 30 round magazine.
“As our detectives interviewed the bus driver the next day, he was still sobbing. He was so upset and scared because he felt that he was going to be shot that day and the danger it exposed the children too,” said Chief Thomas. The juvenile court sentenced the 15 and 16-year-old boys to less than a month in detention.
Last week during a U.S. Marshals led sweep of violent offenders in South King County dubbed Operation Quiet Nights, officers arrested 26 suspects involved in gang violence including 7 juveniles for felony firearms violations.
“Five of those subjects are already back out on the streets,” Thomas said.
The fugitive sweep was planned in advance of summer when gun violence typically heats up between rival groups and gangs.
“After this operation is over, we are going to continue to maintain pressure on these gang members in South King County. We are going to continue to look for anybody with an active warrant who has gang connections,” said Supervisory Deputy Michael Leigh with the U.S. Marshals Pacific NW Violent Offender Task Force.
The goal is to serve as a visible reminder to the those involved in gun violence in South King County that law enforcement is actively working to get them off the streets.
"Prior to the initiative, we were averaging over 11 shootings where people were hit per month and we are now down to four shooting where people were hit per month,” Thomas said.