Anti-gang task force an idea worth pursuing

March 7, 2011 

We have support, sympathy and a suggestion for Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane and the county commissioners.

The support is for finding ways to fight a growing gang problem that has alarmed the community.

The sympathy is for the realization that the fight comes during a time of diminished public funding.

The suggestion is to look at the Metro Drug Task Force as a possible model.

Statistical evidence that gang activity and violence are on the rise here is obvious.

We are most likely to notice the signs of gang activity around us: taggers putting gang signs on almost any public surface that will take paint, gang members displaying "colors" while walking on our streets and, most deeply felt, the stories we read of meaningless shootings or knifings of young people in our communities.

The statistics reported by Sheriff Keane, though, pack quite a punch, especially if his theory that what is happening in Yakima now eventually could happen here.

* Yakima had 17 gang-related homicides in 2010, while the Tri-Cities had one suspected gang-related homicide.

* There were 52 drive-by shootings in the Lower Valley, not including Yakima, last year. Benton and Franklin counties had 15.

* Yakima County spends $7.3 million a year housing gang members in its jail, which includes about 225 gang-related inmates on any given day. Benton County's annual jail costs include about $2.5 million to house about 50 gang members a day.

County commissioners are rightly concerned about the staggering costs in Benton's future. The county already is thinly stretched.

Fortunately, we do not have to invent anti-gang tactics or adopt untried of policies to combat the threat.

That brings us back to the Metro Drug Task Force, a combination of Tri-City and state law enforcement resources that combats the drug traffic often linked to gangs.

We do not doubt that cooperation among the agencies is already at hand and, despite the odds against success, that they are holding back or delaying the outlaws of the new West (and North, South and East).

Nor do we question Sheriff Keane's estimates for what it will take for his department to take on its part of the task alone.

But with the United States and Washington state attorneys general having drug and gang enforcement specialists, it doesn't take much of a stretch to see more links connecting our local agencies even tighter with each other.

The advantage law enforcement officers have over gangs is that the gangs are numerous and fight with each other regularly.

It just makes sense to have the police, who do not fight with each other, present a more united front against the law breakers.

A successful approach to gangs in the Tri-Cities must be a Tri-City and bi-county approach.

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