EVERETT — Officer Anthony Fletcher has the job he has wanted since the sixth grade.
“In my little kid mind, I thought I could eradicate all gangs and all narcotics,” he said.
As the gang education and prevention officer for the Everett Police Department, Fletcher is charged with running the city’s nascent gang intervention and prevention programs. Growing up in Los Angeles, he understands the pressure these groups can apply.
“This is me coming back to this and changing the world around me,” Fletcher said. “Everyone needs a loving adult who will do everything in their power to make sure their kid is supported.”
Fletcher’s squad car is filled with typical police equipment: radio, computer, first-aid kit. But he also has a few basketballs he plans to pass out.
One of the programs was launched at the end of last year and the other began last month, along with a gang response unit that was established in September. All are part of a directive that Mayor Cassie Franklin announced weeks after taking office in 2018.
The programs have been touted by Franklin and Police Chief Dan Templeman as factors in reducing juvenile violence and gang-related crime, both pointing to large drops in these offenses in 2018. The significant decrease last year came after a spike in gang-related crime in 2017, according to data provided by the police department.
This data, which Templeman called “the best numbers” he’s seen since becoming chief in 2014, show a 40 percent reduction in gang-related cases between 2017 and 2018. It also found a 67 percent decrease in drive-by shootings and a 38 percent drop in juvenile firearm-related cases during that same period.
The department didn’t start specifically tracking gang cases until 2016. That’s when new technology created the opportunity for officers to check a box during their reports, making it easier to analyze, the chief said.
It took the city nearly a month to provide the gang data to The Daily Herald. The newspaper asked for the numbers used to generate the broad summaries presented to city councilmembers.
The department says it only has three years’ worth of information for apples-to-apples comparisons, due to changes in computer systems and federal regulations.
It’s a complex process to pull some of that data, Templeman said.
“Three years is not the ideal, but unfortunately it’s what we have,” Templeman said in an interview. “ I would love five years’ worth of data at a minimum. That gives me a pretty good benchmark to measure against. Until you have that, you still have to use the data to deploy your resources.”
Crimes against a person — murder, rape and assault — is another measure Templeman uses when monitoring gang activity. When looking at these cases, and not just gang-related ones, the data show a steady decline between 2016 and 2018, with no spike in 2017.
“It’s a more comprehensive number because it includes many more categories outside of the ones that we’re focusing on,” Templeman said.
He acknowledged that there could be many factors for this reduction in gang activity, including that crime is cyclical — some years it’s up and some it’s down. It also can be affected as active gang members age out of the lifestyle, go to prison or fall victim to violence.
The way officers categorize gang-related cases can also be an influence. Traditionally, the department has been reluctant to publicly label incidents as gang-related, but that’s starting to change.
“I truly believe that the efforts and the resources that the mayor and the council have supported that we’ve dedicated toward this issue have influenced the numbers for sure,” he said.
While violence overall is down, there can still be upticks within a calendar year, the chief said. For example, prosecutors noted an escalation between two warring gangs leading to an assault on a stranger on Casino Road in October.
The data also don’t reflect the daily signs of gang life that patrol officers may be observing, such as kids flashing hand signals or new patterns in graffiti. City leaders also want to know when and where firearms show up illegally — because that’s when people get hurt.
“Gang problem solved, no. Progress, yes. More work to be done, yes,” Templeman said.
He said he wants to keep “trending in the positive direction.”
Gang violence doesn’t just happen in city limits, and the cases that make headlines often involve just a few of the same names over and over. Every few years, those names change.
“There’s not a large number of gangs or gang members,” said Andre Graham, the director of the Boys & Girls Club on Casino Road. “But the influence, it can get kids to do things that they wouldn’t normally do.”
Graham is working with officer Fletcher in running the city’s two new programs. Growing up in Chicago, Graham found a path away from gangs through a religious organization.
“It’s hard not to get pulled in,” Graham said. “Money pulls people to gangs, especially if they come from a low-income family.”
Living in generational poverty, these youth often don’t know what’s possible for them in the world, he said. “They need to be inspired,” Graham said. “Let them know it’s not hopeless, but you do have to take ownership.”
Everett’s intervention programs are intended to accomplish that.
Pathways for Adolescent Youth, or PAY, leverages an existing program at Explorer Middle School, which is in the Mukilteo School District. The youth is also connected with a mentor, often a teacher or counselor the student already knows, and families create an action plan tailored to each student. Incentives, such as gift cards and memberships to after-school clubs, are used to reward positive behavior.
Positive Intervention Outreach Team, or PIVOT, was more challenging to set up, Graham said. It brings together half a dozen agencies and groups.
The plan is to sit down once a month and discuss the youth and their families by name, and brainstorm opportunities or services they might need, Graham said.
Mayor Franklin has seen a rise in gang violence before in Snohomish County, during her time working at Cocoon House. Around 2009, the nonprofit, which provides services to at-risk youth, was part of a multi-agency partnership that used grant money to address gang activity.
When those grants were up, the group looked for additional funding unsuccessfully.
Success is most likely to happen for young adults when wraparound services are offered — when the school district, police department and nonprofits are brought together, Franklin said. She’s determined to see her administration’s new prevention efforts become sustainable. “It’s not good for a community to start programs and have them stop and go away when funding dries up,” she said.
She doesn’t want to see more families lose their children.
With the new programs, police say they already are hearing more often from families earlier in the cycle of gang violence.
Some of those working toward changes in Everett know that intervention worked for them.
What steered Fletcher, the gang resource officer, away from gangs was football and D.A.R.E., a drug and gang education program that began in California in the 1980s.
Each morning he receives a recap of juveniles that had run-ins with officers overnight.
The youth could be potential victims, witnesses or suspects. Fletcher reaches out to each family.
At that point, he purposely avoids reading any police report, to separate himself from any investigation.
“It’s a conscious decision,” he said. “I’m coming as a police officer, but I’m not there as a police officer to investigate them.”
“The goal is to show youth a different path or make them aware of a different path. My goal is to get them to graduation.”