TACOMA — The violence is impossible to ignore.
So far this year, 22 people have been killed in Tacoma. That’s the highest homicide rate since 2006, and there are still three months remaining.
The city’s overall rate of violent crimes was nearly three times higher than the statewide rate in 2017, according to a Gang Assessment Report released in January. That was the last full year of statistics available when the report was done.
(In Seattle, 24 people – 21 men and three women – have been victims of homicide this year as of Sept. 13, when 21-year-old Dawda Corr was fatally shot in the downtown Westlake light-rail station, according to a Seattle Times database.)
Although some people in Tacoma believe gangs are the problem, statistics and the Police Department say otherwise.
Out of the 87 homicides committed in Tacoma since 2015, only six (or 6.9 percent) are believed to be gang-related.
“Gang violence has not increased,” said Loretta Cool, police spokeswoman. “What we’ve seen is a slight increase in violent crimes. Are the people involved in gangs? Some of them are. But the actual reason for the crime happening does not appear to be gang-based.”
Two of this year’s homicides have been classified by police as gang-related.
The first was Tyree Jevon Gipson-Faison, a 27-year-old shot to death June 2 in the 3800 block of South Yakima Avenue.
Although police identified the shooter, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has not yet decided whether to file criminal charges.
The second was Davontre Denzell Robinson-Harris, 23. He was fatally shot in the chest Sept. 1 in the 6300 block of East McKinley Avenue.
Detectives are still investigating that case, and no one has been arrested.
At least two other homicides involved identified gang members, but police say the motive behind the killings did not involve gangs.
Gang violence in Tacoma has decreased since 2011, and the number of gang members living in the city has dropped significantly, the Gang Assessment Report says.
There were 651 gang members in the city in 2011, which dropped 65 percent to 225 gang members last year, statistics show.
Numbers may be diminishing, but officials say gang members still contribute to the overall violence.
“While only small percentages of violent crimes in Tacoma have been classified as gang-related in crime reports, data from other sources suggests that gangs play a much larger role in local violence issues,” according to the report.
In a survey conducted by Tytos Consulting, 46 percent of Tacoma residents reported that gangs are at least somewhat active in their neighborhood. Another 47 percent of residents with children said they believed their son or daughter could be injured by gang activity.
At last week’s City Council meeting, a mother said she and her teenage son were no longer living in their home out of fear after 11 bullets ripped through their house in a recent shooting. She said her son knew one of the boys involved in a recent drive-by shooting.
“I don’t want my son to be the next one dying because he associated with bad people,” she said. “Our children are making decisions and we have 16-year-olds running around killing each other. It’s heartbreaking.”
In response to the recent spike in shootings on the East Side, Tacoma police have designated three detectives to solely work those cases.
A Special Emphasis Team also is assigned to patrol the neighborhoods most affected “to be a deterrent and to proactively contact people as crimes are happening,” Cool said.
Drive-by shootings have become one of the most prevalent crimes, and officers are working them harder than ever.
A special team is assigned to drive-bys in hopes of recovering spent rounds, determining what type of gun they were fired from, linking together various crimes and increasing the number of arrests.
There have been 108 drive-by shootings in Tacoma so far this year, which is already higher than previous years.
In 2018, there were 80 drive-by shootings. In 2017, there were 99.
“It absolutely feels like an increase to me,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said. “The impact of the increase I didn’t quite understand until I started to talk to people who were actually being affected by the shootings.”
Woodards issued a proclamation Tuesday calling for a ceasefire and lamenting the loss of life from the uptick in homicides.
Dozens of people showed up at the City Council meeting to back the proclamation and vow to do their part in protecting youth.
“It takes action and people with hearts and people who are doers,” said Faaluaina Pritchard, executive director of Asia Pacific Cultural Center. “We will stand together. This problem is real and we’re in it.”
The showing at the meeting came on the heels of a march Sept. 14 that drew more than 300 people, including mothers who have lost their sons, Police Chief Don Ramsdell, Woodards, City Council members, Puyallup Tribal Chairman David Bean and state House speaker Laurie Jinkins.
Marchers chanted, “Cease fire,” and carried signs reading “Enough Violence” and “Put the guns down.”
“Tacoma is our City of Destiny, but violence is not our destiny,” said Candace Wesley, who organized the march.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this story.