Ty Swenson
Seattle Police Gang Unit Detective Clayton Agate talks about the recent rise in gang activity in West Seattle during a Crime Prevention Council meeting on April 16.

Gang experts seeing a rise in West Seattle activity

For residents living up and down the Delridge corridor, it has been no strange occurrence to hear likely gunshots ring out in the night, or wake up the next morning to find a nearby fence or wall splashed with gang graffiti.

According to specialists within the Seattle Police Department, gang activity has been on the rise in West Seattle over the past several months, and they are turning their attention to figuring out why.

Speaking to the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council on April 16, Lt. Daniel Whalen and Det. Clayton Agate from SPD’s Robbery, Gang and Fugitive Unit shared what information they could with the public.

“You have some very active juveniles who at least associate with gangs in West Seattle, and it’s getting more active,” Agate said. “I have noticed in the past few months a tremendous increase in gang graffiti just down the road here in Delridge.”

In addition to looking at graffiti trends (and whether they are meant to mark territory for drug sales, burglary territory, or simply graffiti competition), Agate has been investigating four separate shootings aimed at the same home near the corner of 20th Ave. S.W. and S.W. Cloverdale. To this point, police have only said they don’t know who was behind those shootings, and that the victims had no idea why they were being targeted.

Agate provided more context, explaining that those shootings – which occurred from early March to early April – may have been related to a November shooting from last year where two men were shot at near a bus stop on the 9200 block of Delridge Way S.W. He said those victims are associated with the house being targeted in recent shootings, and that those people are at least affiliated with the Varrio Locos gang.

Agate said he was unable to go into more detail on the shootings because they are part of an active investigation.

“Is there anything else besides reporting something obvious?,” a Delridge resident who spends her days at home asked Agate. “It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to take my child outside.” She said her home has been the target of attempted break-ins, multiple thefts, and graffiti up and down the fence. “Is there anything else I can do besides move?”

Agate urged the woman (and everyone else) to call 911 to report crimes in progress and suggested getting involved in block watches.

Gangs and Gang Units
Lt. Whalen of the SPD Robbery, Gang and Fugitive Unit took time during the meeting to explain how the Gang Unit, comprised of 14 detectives and three sergeants, operates. First, he said, they are detectives and investigators who (unlike our Hollywood vision of suits or undercover garb) wear clear-as-day black SPD uniforms.

Why? “We want them to be distinctive,” Whalen said. A big part of his detectives’ job is “to go out and get to know every gang member in the city.” By getting to know gang members, and being easily identified by their uniforms, Whalen said they are able to show up and discourage illegal activity.

Gang detectives also get to know gang members and their families in an attempt to interdict gang membership, “preferably at an early age,” Whalen added.

Regarding the makeup of gangs themselves, Whalen said most members in Seattle are young, between the ages of 14 and 18.

“They are living a lifestyle where their home is so bad, that it is a viable option for them to join a criminal gang … that might even be an improvement over what they have at home and that’s pretty horrendous to think about,” he said.

Forming an analogy with auto insurers jacking up prices for young male drivers in that demographic, Whalen said, “Why is that? Testosterone. Very aggressive, you don’t stop and think, and you just go out and do stuff. And that’s when and why we need a mom and dad grabbing us by the hair, pulling us back and telling us no. We need parental supervision, and a lot of these kids don’t have it.”

According to law enforcement guidelines, a gang is qualified as a group of three or more individuals who identify themselves by a name or color who engage in illegal activity.

Strong-armed robberies and Apple
Whalen said gangs in West Seattle are known to commit strong-armed robberies, and they have seen an uptick of occurrences along Metro bus routes in recent months.

The primary target? Apple products.

Whalen said white “earbuds,” or headphones, which are a traditionally linked to Apple iPhones and iPods, are a dead giveaway to gang members interested in making a quick buck. His department has seen a rash of instances (and West Seattle is no stranger to the scenario) of young men riding buses, generally at night, and looking for targets with headphones. They’ll get off the bus with their mark, follow them to a less busy area, and steal their Apple products – often times with use of force. Whalen said any Apple electronic will quickly fetch $100.

The obvious suggestion arising out that tale is that it is best to keep your Apple devices and headphones out of sight in most scenarios.

Agate was asked what to do if you are walking down the street and see a crew that appears to be gang-affiliated (wearing the same colors, for example). Ideally, he responded, one should attempt to avoid the group by finding an alternative route. When that’s not an option, he said to be aware of your surroundings and not exhibit anything worth stealing. Whalen added that it’s important to follow the senses that trigger in your “primordial brain.” If something doesn’t feel right, a little inconvenience in getting away from the situation is worth it.

“Whether you like it or not, the Seattle Police Department cannot protect you 24-7,” he said, “you got to protect yourself. If you are going to live in an urban environment, you are going to have to learn how to live in an urban environment.”

Lt. Davis crime report
Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis, in his monthly crime recap during the WSCPC meeting, said West Seattle is “doing OK” in terms of property crime levels. He said significant arrests have been made and urged citizens to continue calling 911 when they see “knuckleheads in your neighborhood.”

With summer approaching and school days coming to a close in June, Davis said the peninsula generally sees a spike in juvenile crime. His officers are planning accordingly.

The Southwest Precinct recently implemented a “predictive policing” system that allows them to look at historical crime trends in West Seattle with the goal of predicting where crime will occur, before it occurs. Delridge resident Patrick Baer, after seeing a map that illustrated the technology and exhibited crime hotspots in the Junction and Admiral bar districts, asked Davis if focusing too much on what the computer spits out might send officers to less dangerous areas (like a few inebriated individuals getting into a fight after the bars close) instead of patrolling areas where more serious crimes are occurring (such as drug dealing and shootings). Davis said predictive policing technology is just one of many tools used at the precinct, and does not fully dictate where they send officers.

The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets at the Southwest Police Precinct at 2300 SW Webster from 7-8:30pm on the 3rd Tues of every month except for July, Aug, & Dec.

Ty Swenson can be reached at tys@robinsonnews.com

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