Patrick Robinson
The King County Council is mulling over legislation that would allow the council to establish anti-gang zones in unincorporated areas, including North Highline and White Center. Individuals with known gang-related criminal pasts could be arrested for entering the zones. Above, the ATF shows off guns and drugs seized from gang members operating in White Center in 2011.

Pros and cons arise in anti-gang zone proposal for North Highline

During the week of May 7 King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn (District 9) proposed legislation (2012-0135) that would allow the council to establish “anti-criminal street gang emphasis areas” in unincorporated swaths of King County, and give judges the ability to bar people convicted of gang-related crimes from entering those areas. If deputies see individuals banned from an area spending time there, they can be arrested.

The legislation is similar to already-established “Stay out of Drug Areas (SODA)” and “Stay out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP)” where repeat offenders of drug or prostitution activity can be arrested for entering those areas. It differs from SODA and SOAP in its scope: While SODA and SOAP cover geographical zones and entire neighborhoods, the gang-free zones would be determined on a parcel by parcel basis, by the council.

“Illegal gang activity is on the rise and has put our communities at risk,” Dunn in his press release on the legislation. “These ordinances will give law enforcement another tool to use against those suspected of gang-related activity. It’s a giant step in the right direction and I urge my colleagues to support its immediate adoption.”

Not everyone on the council, however, is ready to lend their support. Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents unincorporated North Highline, said “I have concerns … and I don’t know that my concerns can be addressed. I’m not expecting to get to a ‘Yes’ on this.”

“The council would be defining the (anti-gang) areas and we are a deliberate body; we do not move fast,” McDermott said. “If you pick a McDonald’s parking lot … well, people find out that parking lot is off-limits and the whole gang moves across the street and then the deliberate council body has to then take up the ordinance to add the parking lot across the street as well? I don’t think it works very well.”

McDermott also expressed concern on the judicial side of legislation, namely what constitutes a “gang-related” offense, and “how subjective does this become?”

Shankar Narayan with the ACLU told KOMO News, “All that happens is that a gang picks up and moves to the next block, so you are paying to move crime around.”

North Highline and White Center have longstanding perceptions as a magnet for street gang activity and congregation, and if the legislation passes the area would likely have anti-gang zones established.

King County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit Detective Joe Gagliardi, a long time detective focused on battling gangs in Southern California before working in King County, is supportive of the legislation.

“It’s one more thing we can add into the toolbox,” he said. “So if we need it, we can use it.

“Maybe you would see the confrontations move somewhere else, they wouldn’t stop entirely, but that is part … of gang suppression is to suppress it in an area and fraction the gang and send them into different places (so) they are not in one place, using their numbers in strength,” he added.

Gagliardi said he can think of a few specific businesses in North Highline that would most likely become anti-gang zones. His targets are places where “the business or the patrons are affected by gang violence – it’s not just gang members hanging out, it’s shooting in the parking lots and things like that.”

In reference to McDermott’s concern over council’s lack of agility in placing new spots on the list if gangs move from one area to the next, Gagliardi said the Sheriff’s Office would have “frank discussions” with the council on where to create anti-gang zones, with the foresight to include surrounding parcels and adjacent properties within reason.

“We have no interest in creating entire neighborhoods as gang-free zones,” he said.

Gagliardi also said current trespassing laws are difficult to work with in effectively evicting a known gang member from a popular gang hangout. It requires physically removing the person from an area before issuing a citation the next time around, he said, and once a citation is issued it only keeps the offender out of the area for one year. He hopes the new legislation would bar known troublemakers from anti-gang zones for a longer period of time.

The proposed legislation (you can read it here) states it would be a misdemeanor offense for an individual added to the list to enter anti-gang zones. It describes criminal street-gang related offenses (the convictions that would lead a judge to put an offender on a list to stay out of an area) as “any felony or misdemeanor offense, whether in this state or elsewhere, that is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with any criminal street gang, is committed with the intent to promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by a gang.”

The proposed ordinance also states defined anti-gang areas are “not intended to preclude an individual from accessing his or her established place of residence or employment or school.”

Gagliardi said in order for the ordinance to become an effective tool, the anti-gang zones need to target specific gangs members who congregate in specific areas.

"I just want to make sure that it's not just an overriding, 'If you are a member of a gang you can't go into gang emphasis zones 1,2,3,4,5 and 7,'" he said. "I would want it to be specific for that gang."

A specific date for the King County Council to vote on the ordinance has not been established, but Kelli Carroll, head of staff, said it will likely occur in July.

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