Kent Police and other members of a newly created South King County regional task force say they are reducing the skyrocketing number of gun crimes.
Agencies created the task force two months ago to target known violent offenders, and last week it arrested 26 people—most of them gang members—in an effort to curtail gun crime.
“Although two months are a relatively short period of time to measure results, we believe that our efforts are causing the shooting incidents to trend in a positive direction,” said Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas at a news conference Monday morning at Kent City Hall. “We know there is a lot more work to do, but we are aggressively working to get the worst of the worst off of the streets in an effort to keep our community safe. This is definitely a group effort to combat gun violence and we are going to continue to relentlessly push forward.”
Police, under a sting called Operation Quiet Nights, arrested the 26 throughout South King County on investigation of gun-related crimes, including felony warrants. Seven were juveniles, and because they are younger than 18, five of those were not held. More than 70 officers from almost two dozen agencies were part of the sting, according to the U.S. Marshals Service that helped lead the operation.
Sheriff John Urquhart of the King County Sheriff’s Office, one of nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies represented at the news conference, said the task force will be successful and more arrests will be made.
“I have a message for the juveniles in gangs with guns—if you are out there, we are going to catch you,” Urquhart said. “We have all banded together, and we are going to get out there and catch these shooters. We are going to take those guns off the street. If you have guns, you are going to jail if you’re an adult. If you are a juvenile, we’re going to put you in juvie (detention). You may not stay too long and that’s a shame, but that’s what we are going to do.”
Agencies formed the task force after 16 gun-related homicides in the first four months of this year in South King County, basically from South Seattle to the Pierce County border, Thomas said. There also were 48 shootings during the first four months in which people were hit but survived the injuries; more than 100 shots-fired calls where officers recovered shell casings; and another 200 to 300 shots-fired calls where officers were dispatched but no evidence was found.
“Over the past two months, we have seen a reduction of shooting incidents per month from (an) over-65-per-month average in the first four months to 36 shootings per month in the past two months,” Thomas said.
The number of gun-related homicides per month dropped from four to one, he said. The number of shootings of people being hit by shots dropped from 11 per month to four.
But law officials have discovered gangs are recruiting juveniles to carry out violent acts because there is “little accountability for gun violations in our juvenile justice system,” Thomas said.
Thomas used as an example an incident March 16 in Kent where a school bus with 62 elementary school students aboard stopped at a bus stop near 64th Avenue South and West Meeker Street. Boys ages 15 and 16 approached the bus and during a verbal altercation with the bus driver, reportedly threatened to kill him. One of them pulled out a loaded handgun. Thomas displayed that handgun at the news conference. The driver was able to pull away safely and nobody was injured.
Kent Police arrested the two boys shortly after the incident and the case already went through the court system. One of the boys received 3o days in detention for the crime, 20 hours of community service and six months probation, Thomas said. The other boy got 20 days in detention.
“There certainly is an issue here with accountability as we do everything we can to make our community safe and some of the people most responsible for the violence are then put back out on the street with little or no accountability,” Thomas said.
Thomas said more intervention programs need to be set up to help get youth out of gangs. He said he and Auburn Police Chief Bob Lee met with a representative from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office last week to talk about forming a gang summit to address better prevention and intervention programs.
As far as the guns used in the crimes, Thomas said gang members get many of the guns during home burglaries. Urquhart said gun owners need to lock up their guns.
“If you’re a homeowner and have a gun, good for you, but for God’s sake keep it locked up,” Urquhart said. “None of these shooters are walking into Wade’s gun shop and buying a gun. They are buying them on the street and these guns are all stolen. And they are stolen from houses where people do not lock up their guns. And people are dying because of that.
“We do not have a law in Washington to punish people who do not lock up their guns. Maybe we should.”
A version of this story was published at the Kent Reporter.