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Community meets to discuss gang problem

MARYSVILLE — “Yes, there are gangs in Marysville,” Marysville Police Lt. Jeff Goldman said to area residents Nov. 6. “Nobody likes to hear that.”

Goldman, Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith and Christopher Grant, a retired police officer with 20 years of experience in dealing with gangs, conducted a community forum on “Understanding the Gangster Mentality” at Grove Elementary, during which they explained the extent of Marysville’s gang problem.

The good news they reported is that Marysville’s gang activity currently appears to be limited to graffiti vandalism and intimidation among younger people. Grant praised Marysville Police, as well as the city and school district of Marysville, for their roles in limiting the impact of gangs by proactively responding to them. However, he and Goldman agreed that the community must remain vigilant.

“It’s positive, but we can’t take it for granted,” said Goldman, a member of the Marysville Police ProAct Team. Goldman explained that the ProAct Team is a high-visibility, swift-action force devoted specifically to issues such as graffiti, gangs and drug houses. The team will work with the school resource officer and criminal intelligence personnel in other agencies to identify and monitor gang activity throughout the region.

Goldman and Smith agreed that the ProAct Team can only be part of the solution, however, since they need the community to act as their eyes and ears, by staying alert for signs of gang activity, and reporting them to the police. Goldman echoed Grant’s explanation that younger people can get swept up into the gang lifestyle for a variety of reasons, including fear, excitement and a desire for acceptance.

“Parents have an intuition,” Goldman said. “You get a feeling when something’s wrong. If you see something suspicious or out of place in your neighborhood, call us. Don’t worry whether it’s a ‘real emergency’ or not. This has to be a combined effort on the part of citizens, the police department and the schools, because we’re all part of this.”

Goldman pointed out that education itself can be an effective deterrent to gang recruitment, as can activities such as athletics and music, since they provide constructive outlets for young people to express themselves and achieve goals. Among the warning signs of possible gang involvement that he identified were drug use and body marking. He advised parents to know who their children’s friends are, and where they’re spending their time.

Goldman and Smith agreed with the assessment of Marysville City Council member Jeff Vaughan that the policy of requiring graffiti to be cleaned up within 48 hours has served as a deterrent to would-be graffiti vandals. Another deterrent all three men mentioned was the police department’s arrest record of more than 50 graffiti vandals within the past year, only a couple of whom have been repeat offenders.

Vaughan and Smith elaborated that the police department takes photos of the graffiti “tags,” to cross-index them against a database of thousands of other tags, which prosecutors can often use to charge graffiti vandals with leaving multiple tags.

While counseling and family interventions are favored for younger offenders, Vaughan spoke about the city “throwing the book” at adult offenders, and advocated a program under which they would be sentenced to clean up the town while wearing bright orange vests that read “graffiti offender.” This latter remark earned Vaughan applause from attendees.

City of Marysville Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew noted that anti-graffiti movies have proven effective in schools, as have police visits to middle schools warning of “the perils of graffiti.”

For those who feel uncomfortable calling 911, the city of Marysville’s Web site has a form that people can fill out online to report graffiti, at http://ci.marysville.wa.us/graffiti.aspx.

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