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Originally published Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 3:52 PM

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Seattle Public Schools and city should tackle gang problem together

In Seattle, city government and the school district are beefing up security at several schools to avoid additional gang-related troubles. The Seattle Public Schools and the city should share some of the costs of placing police officers in schools.

Seattle Times editorial

SEATTLE cannot pretty up its significant gang problem. Overall crime is down, but gang activity is up. Students need the city and the school district to help keep them safe in school and before and after classes.

The city currently uses general-fund money to pay for a Seattle police officer to work Garfield High School, the most troubled of city schools. A new $8 million youth-violence-prevention program will bring police to five middle schools, Madrona, Meany, Aki Kurose, Washington and Denny, beginning next week. A focus on middle schools makes sense because officers help prevent gang association by focusing on at-risk students with truancy and suspension problems.

Now if it becomes possible to place officers in more high schools, perhaps Cleveland, Chief Sealth, Franklin and Rainier Beach, the city and school district have to share costs. Parents and students need the protection offered by a police officer on the premises.

The city is willing to pay at least half of the cost — while the school district has been all but mum. Both jurisdictions have strapped budgets but both should contribute, because public safety is compromised.

At Garfield, for example, a police officer has been assigned since last fall after several shootings near the school. The school canceled a long-standing basketball game to avoid troubles with rival Rainier Beach. Garfield Principal Ted Howard starts school earlier than other high schools to avoid mixing on Metro buses with students from other high schools.

School officials are correct that most youth violence does not occur on school grounds, and the district has hired six new security specialists, including two focused on gang-related problems. Still, surrounding activity puts students in harm's way.

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske is careful about using the word "gang" in connection with shootings in part because it diminishes the life of victims. There have been shootings of young kids who are wannabes, in other words, not-quite gang members. The risk is understating the magnitude of a growing problem. In 2008, six Seattle teens were killed in gang-suspected violence.

We cannot talk our way out of the gang problem. The city has an aggressive youth-violence-prevention program. The city and school district need to share resources to protect kids.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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