Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett made one thing clear during a town hall meeting on the topic of crime in the Crossroads neighborhood: Over the last several months there has been an uptick in violent behavior in the area.
The department has seen discharging firearms, assaults, intimidation, people terrorizing each other. Since Jan. 22, more than 25 shots were fired in the general Crossroads area, police said.
Most recently the body of an 18-year-old male was found slumped over at Goldsmith Neighborhood Park on April 3. He had multiple close-up gunshot wounds and was found after neighbors reported sounds of gunshots shortly after 12:30 a.m.
And Mylett believes the uptick in crime the neighborhood is seeing is gang affiliated — primarily being committed by youths.
“The group responsible for this, I can’t come straight out and say it is solely 100 percent solidly affiliated with a gang, but there are strong links to it,” Mylett said. “And I’m getting really, really close to claiming that.”
He vocalized that message to the crowd at a Stevenson Elementary School gathering on April 10. It was one town hall meeting and more are planned to follow, providing more details and resources for helping local youth.
The chief touched on his experience with other gangs — having served as a police officer for 30 years, a chunk of his career was spent in Corpus Christi, Texas. There he witnessed gangs evolve day after day, culminating with the loss of life, he said.
“We didn’t act fast enough, and we lost control for a period of time,” Mylett said. “And it took a whole lot of work, and it was a whole lot harder for us to gain control.”
This time he wasn’t going to wait. “Because every single day that the gangs are able to do the things that they do, it places every single one of us at risk,” Mylett said.
Carl Kleinknecht, assistant chief of police operations, said the group they believe is responsible first reared its head about a year and a half ago and were perpetuating the idea that they owned Crossroads park, the skate bowl and other areas — claiming that it was their territory. The police department discovered what they believe is gang activity through a number of random acts of violence in the area.
And the random acts of violence weren’t just one-and-done acts, Kleinknecht said. They were crimes where the suspects exhibited a certain amount of drive.
Some of the instances included a youth who was knocked unconscious by his own skateboard while skateboarding at the skate bowl. A few weeks later another teen was walking through the same area and was attacked and cut with an edged weapon. He fled on foot, but what was different than typical of other attackers is the suspects chased the victim into a local business.
“Normally that doesn’t happen because they know when a victim makes it to a place of safety the police are going to get called,” Kleinknecht said. “But they did not terminate their pursuit of him and were assaulting him in the store.”
The store owner called 911, and officers made it to the scene within two minutes. Police arrested the suspects and took witness statements. But a few days later, the youths involved in the incident allegedly returned and smashed out the plate glass window of the business after being released. They also allegedly stole a vehicle belonging to a witness family member of the business owner and torched it in the Crossroads area.
Police made arrests that seemed to quell violent activity the department had seen. Things appeared to be okay, Kleinknecht said, until January of this year.
In one event, 14 shots were fired near the Walmart at 148th and Main streets.
During another, a young bus passenger was attacked. One youth was physically trying to remove the passenger from the bus. And a citizen, realizing the potential for something bad to happen, pulled the juvenile back on the bus. The suspect then got off the bus and immediately got into a car behind the bus. The car appeared to pursue the bus.
“We believe they were waiting for this juvenile to get off the bus to continue their attack,” Kleinknecht said. Officers in the area pulled the car over.
Phone calls were made and a short time later two additional car loads showed up at the traffic stop. The cars circled the police officers, video recorded them, started to taunt and provoke the officers and intimidate them, Kleinknecht said.
“We have not experienced that in the 28 years I’ve been at Bellevue,” he said.
Two hours later, a female and her daughters were accosted by two of the suspects, in the Crossroads area and made threats to kill and brandish a baseball bat. They attempted to inflict bodily harm on the teenage daughters and the mom. Police were called, the suspects fled but were apprehended.
In response to what is happening and the homicide, police are planning to be in the Crossroads area in force, having a higher-visibility presence than they already have. The department will have a “focused enforcement” objective, Mylett said.
“We know who is affiliated with this group and there are many,” he added. “And I do this unapologetically — If they step out of line and we can make an arrest, we’re going to make an arrest. If they step out of line and there’s a citation that can be issued, we’re going to issue a citation. If they do something inside the car that allows us to impound the car, I’m taking their wheels away and we’re going to impound it.”
The police chief gave details on the department’s immediate response but would not elaborate on the details of future response, due to some of it being covert, he said.
Mylett refused to name which gang he believes is responsible for the acts of violence. But added that those who resided in the Crossroads neighborhood would know which gang he was referring to.
And he asked that if neighbors see something suspicious, to report it. He said neighbors should make sure they’re seeing suspicious behavior, before calling 911, and shouldn’t simply call if they see someone walking through the neighborhood that looks different than them. “That’s not suspicious behavior,” Mylett said.
“Folks understand this, I am not being critical of human beings — I am being critical of the behavior that they are presenting,” Mylett said. “We’ve got to stop it because everything we’ve been doing up to this point to interdict, to stop, to intervene has been effective, but not effective enough.”
During the open question-and-answer portion of the evening, one resident stressed a fear that Bellevue’s police department will begin exhibiting the same behaviors he saw growing up in Yakima in the 1990s.
There was an emergence of gang violence there, he said. And at the time, the police department took a position to go “fast and hard” on gang members. That response resulted in racial profiling experienced by the man and his friends.
“We grew up low income and while we were hanging out with each other we were constantly profiled to the extent that law enforcement was not a friend,” he said. “And it pushed us to join a gang as a resort of safety, which of course escalated to different problems because the police department took a zero tolerance approach to youth violence.”
He added that Bellevue going after gang members could only mean youth profiling will happen and the policy could lead to nothing else but “locking up brown and black kids.” His friends were caught in the justice system, and have a life-long experience of incarceration. He asked the chief to again state what they meant by their approach to gangs. “You talk about gang members, but we’re also talking about kids — our kids,” the man said.
In response Mylett said the department knows who is and who isn’t a part of the gang, due to them being active in incidents officers have been seeing.
“I didn’t say zero tolerance,” Mylett said. “We said focused enforcement. That is who we are focusing our efforts on.”