King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht speaks to City Council Monday night


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King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht attended the Burien City Council meeting Monday evening, addressing several questions surrounding gangs and youth-on-youth violence.

Story & Photos by Aaron Wells

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht attended the Burien City Council meeting Monday evening (April 16), addressing several questions surrounding gangs and youth-on-youth violence.

“Recent events have made us reflect upon what we can do better, to make community members feel safer,” Johanknecht said. “Since we spend a number of working hours within  the city, in essence we become community members. The loss of any life is one too many.”

Mayor Jimmy Matta differentiated youth-on-youth violence from gang violence, describing a culture created in Burien streets which is heavily impacting local youth.

“We have some real bad gangbangers that we should not allow to take over our streets,” Matta said, illustrating the cultural impact by recounting a recent conversation he’d had with a local mother afraid to send her children to local schools.

Asked by Councilmember Krystal Marx about the possible return of a gang unit, Johanknecht remarked, “Everything is open for consideration and review. We can blend City and County resources, perhaps. It is something we’re considering.”

The Sheriff also mentioned ongoing contractual negotiations, mentioning the potential for increasing services to the City while reducing costs. Increased services would include the addition of a professional community engagement staff member who would, among other duties, work to increase community trust which Deputy Mayor Austin Bell described as damaged in part by national events.

During the public comment period, several community members echoed concerns over youth and gang violence, calling for a return of the County’s gang unit.

Catching the Sheriff on her way out, I asked about the reality of bringing back a gang unit.

“I’m hopeful,” she responded, going on to describe her ongoing work with Police Chiefs throughout the region, developing a task force as “a step in the right direction.”

Asked by Councilmember Pedro Olguin about immigration enforcement, Johanknecht responded, “Immigration status doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone is served equally.” She went on to reiterate that the department does not enforce immigration detainers, acting only on warrants signed by a judge.

Coinciding with the ongoing concern and discussion surrounding youth and gang violence, the first proclamation was presented to Gary Milligan (pictured above), a volunteer with Music4Life, which has donated 100 ready-to-play instruments to local schools within the past year.

The proclamation describes the impact to local youth stemming from instrument donations and ongoing support of the Music4Life program:

“Research now shows that students who participate in instrumental music programs tend to do better in math, science, history, literature, reading, writing, international languages, even in computer science and other academic disciplines.”

Linda Stryker (pictured above), an applicant for the Burien Parks & Recreation Board, also appeared before the Council, where she briefly addressed a handful of Councilmembers’ questions ranging from strategies to meet the needs of a diverse population to potential solutions for a growing concern over youth-on-youth violence stemming from the March 28 murder of two young girls, ages 13 and 19.

Mayor Jimmy Matta asked specifically about youth-on-youth violence, mentioning the diverse socioeconomic population of Burien, and seeking any ideas Linda has in mind.

“I’d have to ponder that,” Linda responded, adding that any solution would include “kids who feel appreciated, give back, and feel like leaders.”

Responding to a question by Councilmember Bob Edgar, Linda expounded on her vision, mentioning the necessity of clean and safe outdoor facilities, including park restrooms free of graffiti and drug use. She applauded the Burien Localists group for their ongoing efforts to catalog and remove graffiti from public spaces.

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