EVERETT, Wash. – It’s no secret our area has a growing gang problem. We’re seeing it from Snohomish to King to Pierce counties. To stop the violent crimes, the Everett Police Department is working on putting together a gang unit.
When you compare the first five months of this year compared to last year, gang-related offenses are down 60%, shootings city-wide are down 37%, and drive-by shootings are down 85%.
But Everett’s Police Chief Dan Templeman says he’s bracing for the summer months when shootings and other crimes tend to spike. That's why the city needs a gang unit, he says.
“His ability to look at a graffiti tag and quickly identify what gang that’s affiliated with and who might’ve done that takes quite a bit of time,” Templeman said of one dedicated gang detective in Everett.
Now, the city is looking to get a full unit with five officers and one sergeant.
“My focus is on public safety and gang violence. We’re seeing a real uptick and it's frightening, the age of the kids we’re seeing,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in January.
The mayor’s directive in January kicked the police department’s anti-gang efforts into high gear.
“Just because we don’t have a stand-alone gang unit doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on this issue,” Templeman said.
For the past eight months, the department has been doing emphasis patrols on West Casino Road, which is an area plagued by gang violence.
“…to prevent the kind of rise in shootings and violence we saw last year from occurring again this year,” said Templeman.
Deadly gang-related shootings allegedly committed by young teenagers against other teens. While the number of gang members seems to be growing, the number of police officers is flatlining due to retirements. And staffing concerns make it hard to have enough officers to put together a gang unit.
“Staffing is an issue you have to look at. You have to look at equipment and outfitting. You have to look at budget and how that impacts the budget,” said Templeman.
Once you get the right detectives, understanding gangs is a science in itself.
“We would send them off to training on gangs, identification of gangs, graffiti, surveillance-type training,” said Templeman.
By early August, the police chief plans to have at least a partial unit in place.
“Maybe we start with two officers and a sergeant,” said Templeman.
The chief says drive-by shootings and murders are just the symptoms.
“Without treating the disease or the cause, this unit is just going to continue to respond and make arrests and respond and make arrests,” said Templeman.
That’s why he says at least one member of the gang unit will solely focus on education and prevention.
A gang unit isn’t the only priority of the Everett Police Department. They’re also putting extra resources toward the city’s opioid epidemic and homeless problems.