SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department provided an inside look at the work of its gang unit as problems with gang and gun violence continue to worsen in Washington and many parts of the country. More than a dozen people are solely dedicated to the unit as they work to prevent crime and make arrests in the city.
Detective Michael Freese has been with a detective with the unit for the last three years, and he said right now there are about a dozen active gangs in Seattle, but that number changes daily. He said he’s seen members as young as ten and as old as 60.
“The difficult part of our job and you don’t see it a lot in law enforcement, is that often times your victims do not cooperate with you,” Freese said. “Because often times our victims in our shooting cases are gang members themselves. They will refuse to cooperate with us.”
The detectives spend part of their time working on ongoing cases and making arrests, but the other portion of their schedule they devote to preventing future incidents. Some of their preventative work is done out in the community as they look for gang graffiti. On this day, they found some new work out on North Beacon Hill at 13th Avenue and Holgate Street next to Beacon Hill Playground. The side of a wall was decorated with the roster of a Seattle gang.
“This is called a roll call. South Side Locos and then they got all their names here,” Freese said. “We got Smokey, Snapper, Troubles. So if there’s a shooting up the street there we still need to investigate if they are involved, but there’s a high possibility this gang may be involved in that incident.”
“It’s territorial. They’re claiming this area as their turf, and they’re saying 'I was here. This is my spot,'” Freese said. “This is the newspaper for me. Some guys get up and read the Wall Street Journal in the morning. This is the kind of stuff we look for. This is a valuable piece of intelligence.”
On nice days during the warm weather months, they also patrol heavily at public places like beaches and parks. They do this to keep an eye out for gang members who may have warrants, but also to remain visible for all to see.
“I want them to see us just so they say 'The gang unit is out. No beef today.' Or 'We have got to leave. The gang unit is here,'” Freese said.
Recently, they’ve also had success making arrests at gang member funerals. That is one occasion that brings out even the most wanted.
Though the number of gangs in the city changes daily, the police continue their passionate pursuit to ensure that the community remains safe.
“We are doing the best we can to get ahead of it and to proactively stop these things before they happen,” Freese said.