This morning the Tacoma City Council approved funding for a ‘gang unit’. This isn’t the first time Tacoma has had an unit focused on gangs. In the early 90s an anti-gang task force was created, but it was disbanded in the late 90s when gang crime went down. This is a lot like not wearing a bulletproof vest because you didn’t get shot last week. Needless to say, after the task force was disbanded, gang crime went up. Especially on the East Side.
East Side Tacoma has been mired in a gang war since December. There have been over 40 reported shootings and two murders in that area since then. Tacoma’s East Side is one of the poorest areas of the city. And in a lot of ways it’s ignored by most of the rest of the city.
That’s probably not going to change anytime soon. This gang unit’s focus isn’t so much the East Side as it is downtown (Thanks to the shootout last week) and the Ruston Way Waterfront (Thanks to a near-riot between rival gangs on the Fourth of July). The powers that be couldn’t care less if the East Side is reenacting my latest session on Grand Theft Auto, but they draw the line at violence on the waterfront. Actually that isn’t true. This isn’t a line. It’s more like a line in the sand, soon to be washed away.
The funding for this gang unit runs out at the end of the year and there’s no reason to think gang violence will be gone by then. However, it’ll be winter and there won’t be as many people on the waterfront.
The reason that gangs started turning up in Tacoma back in the early 90s in the first place was because place like Los Angeles started to crack down on gangs. What the Tacoma police department doesn’t seem to understand is that unless that crack down is permanent, it won’t work.
There are two kinds of police forces. One responds to crime. The other responds to crime and also tries to prevent crime from happening in the first place. Tacoma’s police force has never been proactive about its policing. This is why the crime rate is what it is in Tacoma.
The Gang Unit (which isn’t even a unit, it’s just approved overtime pay for officers already on the force) is a temporary fix to a permanent problem. It’s paying a phone bill and never expecting another bill.
Come December, the East Side will still be the city’s most dangerous area. Hopefully no one else has to die to prove to the city council that an anti-gang unit is a good idea.