Tri-City gang sweep leads to 27 arrests

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 13, 2012 

A single-day roundup of "gang involved" fugitives in the Tri-Cities netted 27 arrests, including two teen offenders, officials said.

Between all those arrested during the latest gang sweep in the area, there were 14 felony charges and 23 misdemeanor offenses, said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

"The theme today is going to be about accountability," Hohenberg said Friday as he announced the results of Wednesday's joint operation. "We know as long as we have people out there in gangs running around ... it puts people in the Tri-City community at risk."

Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger and Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb joined Hohenberg at the Kennewick police station to discuss gang activity in the community.

Metzger attributed the success of the sweep and daily efforts to keep the heat on criminal gang activity to cooperation among law enforcement agencies in the region.

He said it doesn't matter where the gang action happens, officers are ready to work together and put a stop to it.

"Our message to gang members is: We're better organized than you are. We're going to come after you," Metzger said.

Agencies involved in the gang roundup included the Kennewick, Richland and Pasco police departments, Benton County and Franklin County sheriff's offices, Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. marshals and state Department of Corrections.

A combination of local, state and federal agencies have participated in eight gang sweeps in the region in the past three years, resulting in a total of 286 arrests.

"This can be the expected consequence for them," Hohenberg said.

Kennewick has seen an increase in gang violence and weapon offenses this year, he said. Through October, officers responded to 36 gang incidents involving weapons or violence, compared with 17 for all of last year, he said.

There's also been an increase in gang members carrying guns, he said. Last year, Kennewick officers responded to five gun-related gang incidents, but that number has jumped to 18 already this year.

"These are people out on the street packing weapons," he said. "The problem we're very, very concerned about is innocent parties being hurt."

Other weapons used in gang-related incidents that have been seized by officers include knives, bats, bottles and brass knuckles.

Gun violence and the increase in gangs is a national issue and what's happening in the Tri-Cities is a "snapshot of what's happening across the country," Metzger said.

Though Kennewick has seen an increase in gang crime, Pasco's numbers have been fairly even, Metzger said. But, that doesn't mean Pasco officers plan to ease up any time soon on gang members.

"You don't stop gang violence by shooting it somewhere else," he said. "We're all in this together. It's not just a Pasco problem or a Kennewick problem. ... It's a community problem. This is a Tri-Cities problem."

Tri-City law enforcement officials also have been working with police officials in Yakima, Walla Walla and Hermiston to address gang issues across the region.

Cobb said it's traditionally been difficult for officers to communicate between agencies, but the Tri-Cities is unique in the effort and ability to reach across city or county lines. And it's something that is now being replicated in other areas, he said.

The goal is to make sure gang members understand that if they want to commit crime in the Tri-Cities, "you have nowhere to go that is a safe area," Cobb said.

"Our shoulder patches show the jurisdiction we work for, but they're not going to be barriers to criminal apprehension and prosecution," he said.

Hohenberg also credited efforts by Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller and commissioners in both counties to work to reopen a cell block at the juvenile detention center so there's room to hold the young offenders accountable when they get arrested.

Though every officer in Kennewick is a "gang officer," the department also has had detectives on the Criminal Apprehension Team focusing on street-level drugs and gang crimes since 2004, Hohenberg said.

CAT detectives work closely with Benton County sheriff's gang unit, which was formed last year, and there soon will be a dedicated unit in Pasco focusing on gang activity.

When Metzger took over as Pasco's chief a year ago, he said he wanted to create a street crimes unit that will focus on gangs, and he's getting close to making that a reality. He's still in the process of hiring two officers to fill openings in the department, and this week he has been conducting internal interviews to select the officers who will be on the street crimes unit.

The goal is to have the team on the street beginning Jan. 1, he said.

While agency collaboration is key, the top cops also said the public plays an integral role in helping police keep the community safe. Community members are encouraged to call authorities if they see anything suspicious -- something many have done that has helped lead to arrests, Hohenberg said.

Kennewick police also created a Gang Tip Line earlier this year in response to a series of drive-by shooting and other gang-related crimes.

The tip line is operated by Kennewick police, but detectives can forward information on to other agencies. The number goes to a cell phone, which means text messages and photos can be sent in, said Detective Dan Long.

"We're trying to appeal to the younger crowd -- teens and high schoolers," he said. "We're trying to make it so it's not intimidating."

The tip line isn't getting hundreds of calls, but it has been used and the information provided has helped lead to some arrests, Long said.

Anyone with information about gang activity can call 551-GANG (551-4264) and leave a tip anonymously.

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