A study on gang activity in Tacoma shows it is much more prevalent in some parts of town than others. Using the boundaries of the eight neighborhood councils, the study found five of them – South Tacoma, South End, East Side, Central and New Tacoma – are disproportionally affected by gang-related crime. Tacoma City Council examined the findings of the assessment during its Feb. 28 study session.
Councilmember Victoria Woodards, who was chair of the executive steering committee for the assessment, noted the council identified this as a priority during its retreat two years ago.
A major reason for conducting the assessment is that one is required to be eligible for many grants to fund anti-gang efforts.
Assessments done in four other cities – Pittsburgh, Houston, Durham, N.C. and Fairbanks, Alaska – were referred to during the process. Woodards said Tacoma collected four to five times as much data as Durham, noting that 147 youth were surveyed. Parents, neighborhood residents and civic leaders were also surveyed.
"We wanted to hear from the community what they thought was the problem," Woodards remarked.
Woodards said more youth identified themselves as gang members than what previous date indicated.
Melissa Cordeiro from the city's Human Rights and Human Services Department was coordinator for the project. She said the assessment revealed a need to better share data between schools, police and the juvenile court system.
The study found a correlation between income and educational levels and gang activity. The North End has 2.6 percent of families below the poverty level, a median income of $62,500 and 6 percent of residents without a high school diploma. In contrast, New Tacoma, which includes much of Hilltop, has figures of 30.6 percent, $25,056 and 21 percent.
Of youth involved in gangs, 49 percent reported it is very easy to obtain a handgun and 72 percent reported it very easy to obtain drugs.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said she does not wish to infringe upon the Constitutional right of adults to own firearms, but is concerned about availability for youth. "It is way too easy to get access to illegal firearms."
The area around Tacoma Mall is a common place for gang conflict. Cordeiro said this is due to the Pierce Transit facility, which funnels rival gangs from around the city to one location.
Councilmember Joe Lonergan said the assessment will allow the city to be selective in applying for grants. "We will be very strategic and intentional in what we ask for."
The study found middle school youth are at elevated levels of risk for gang activity. Strickland has pushed for the return of competitive sports at the middle school level to provide youth with structured activities and to instill a sense of neighborhood pride and connectedness in them.