Forum to discuss gangs in schools

MARYSVILLE — Snohomish County was chosen as the site of one of two statewide community forums about gangs in schools because of the work local police and community groups are doing to address the problem, state officials said.

The state’s Gangs in Schools Task Force plans to talk to community members, police, school officials and students on Tuesday at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. The talk will focus on ways to prevent and eliminate gangs and to gather information about gangs.

“We don’t have a lot of answers right now. We have a lot of questions,” said Dawn Larsen, director of projects for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Last year the Legislature created a task force to look at gang activities in schools. The group is made up of school administrators and security officers, police, juvenile court officials, gang intervention specialists and others.

“Really it’s not just a school problem. It’s a community problem,” said Tyson Vogeler, program supervisor for the state School Safety Center of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The group is charged with making recommendations to lawmakers. The task force is in the process of gathering information about what is happening in schools, Vogeler said.

“There really isn’t a good statewide understanding about gangs in schools,” he said. “We see news of a resurgence of gangs in our community. Much is anecdotal but there hasn’t been a good assessment statewide. There isn’t any school data.”

State lawmakers are considering a bill that incorporates recommendations from a different task force that last year studied gang crimes statewide.

The legislation calls for $10 million for prevention and intervention programs and tougher penalties for gang crimes, as well as a statewide database to track gang members.

In Snohomish County, police have begun to create a database to track people who have been confirmed to be affiliated with gangs. Local police developed specific criteria to identify someone as a gang member.

A countywide assessment done last year confirmed that gang membership is on the rise. Police found about 250 gang members and 200 associates from about 20 different gangs in the county.

Nationwide police are seeing more gang activity in the suburbs. Gangs are moving to where there is less pressure from police, as well as fertile markets to sell drugs or commit other crimes, police said. That trend is coupled with a surge of young people who are emulating the “thug” lifestyle celebrated in pop culture.

It’s not clear how these factors are playing out in schools, Vogeler said.

“Schools are unique. It takes a different approach to deal with gangs in schools,” he said.

Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or

Forum on gangs

A statewide community forum to address gangs in schools is planned from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, 5611 108th St. NE, Marysville.

Community members, students, school staff and others are invited to learn more about the Gangs in Schools Task Force and offer input on how to deal with gangs. Written comments also will be accepted.

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