Gang activity is like a recessionÃ¢'ê¬Â¦you often don't know it's a problem until it's too late to do much.
Several youth-related murders of late strongly suggest that gang violence, which had been somewhat contained in recent years, is coming back with a vengeance in Seattle and King County. Tuesday's Seattle Times notes the trend.
And, just as more fiscal stimulus is an imperfect solution for an economic downturn, more police presence isn't the ultimate answer during a violent upturn. As new Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell recently observed to me: "These kids, I would argue, were lost even before the bullets struck them."
Early intervention, of course, is always the preferred solution. Identify at-risk kids young, before they go seriously off course, and get them back on track. After-school activities, teen recreation centers, mid-night basketball, etc. — you've no doubt heard the list. Programs, not police, are everyone's favorite panacea.
Still, there's been a lot of second-guessing lately about the decision by both the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office to disband their gang units in recent years to save money.
Councilmember Jan Drago has bragging rights to the I-told-you-so mantle. She unsuccessfully fought Mayor Nickels and Police Chief Kerlikowske back in 2002 when they cut the unit here in Seattle. She said to me recently: "I had many, many clippings from the newspapers during that time, that budget period, confirming that gang violence was on the resurgence."
Such clippings finally seem to be making a difference. In response to the growing problems, the Sheriff's Office is set to resurrect its gang unit soon. And Seattle recently has added more officers and detectives to the effort. Everyone hopes these moves aren't too little too late.
Why the gang upsurge? The usual factors are at work, including a tough economy at the low end and an increasingly toxic drug culture. But there is one interesting new cause. Many gang members from the last big surge in the 80s and 90s are finishing up their 10-20 year prison sentences, and they're making their way back to the neighborhoods where they first caused trouble.
Expect continued Monday morning quarterbacking on the gang unit cuts by both the City and the County.
Just like with recessions, there's always a few who actually do predict things right.