Seattle Takes on Youth/Gang Violence

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Seattle has a youth gang problem.

We won't couch that with the media frenzy terms like "surging juvenile violence" or "growing gang activity," because the city's juvenile violent crime referrals stats have hovered between 729 and 812 from 2003 to 2007. The 762 referrals in 2007 are worse than 729 in 2006, but it was well below the 812 referred in 2005.

"It's not that the problem growing, it's recognition of a problem," says Steve Daschle, who heads a nonprofit working in one of the neighborhoods struggling to stave off youth violence.

But the city has a police chief staggered by the 10-year-old baby bangers being brought in, and at least one principal acknowledging the need to take back entire hallways from gangs. And the numbers for the first two-thirds of 2008 are not good: six teenagers dead and 43 youth victims of gun assaults. So it is a problem, and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced his $9 million plan to solve it.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran two excellent stories on young gang members in August, which brought the issue into focus just before Nickels rolled out his plan this month. The picture painted by reporter Claudia Rowe is certainly a familiar one to JJ Today as a D.C. resident: groups of teens, low-level drug-dealing, and neighborhood rivalries that turn bloody largely via drug-impaired judgment and a healthy dose of fatalism.

Nickel's plan already has numbers and targets. Here is a breakdown:

What: $9 million ($5.5 million in new funds, $3.5 million in money redirected from existing programs) for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative to curb youth violence.

Where: The Central District, Rainier Valley and Southwest Seattle neighborhoods.

Who: 800 youths that the plan will target, including truants, victims of gang crimes, or frequent visitors to the station house and/or detention center.

When: January 2009 to May 2010, the date at which the city's goal is to have juvenile violent crime cut in half.

It is the "how," of course, that will dictate whether this all works. Will it be new strategies to reach youth (using former gang members for outreach has been mentioned), or just more of the same youth work with better funding (which isn't necessarily a bad thing)?

It is known that the work will be largely coordinated by three key partnering nonprofits: Daschle's Southwest Youth and Family Services, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Atlantic Street Center.

"I can't give you specs because I don't know specifics yet," Daschle says.

One thing he says will have to be a part of this is resource integration. Cops, priests, youth workers, schools, all have to figure out what their job is in this initiative and do it. With added resources and better organization, the standard excuses won't be available.

JJ Today will check back once the city council considers Nickel's budget proposal, sometime after Sept. 29.