Benton County sheriff's gang unit meeting objectives

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 8, 2013 

The Benton County sheriff's gang unit jailed 191 suspects and seized 18 dangerous weapons during its first year in operation.

The five-member unit is "meeting the objective that we've set out to meet -- to reduce violent gang crime and the number of gang members in our community," said Sheriff Steve Keane, after releasing the unit's stats for 2012.

The unit was formed in 2011 to crack down on gang activity, said Keane, who estimates the Tri-City area has 700 to 1,000 gang members and associates.

He highlighted the number of search warrants the unit served, the amount of illegal drugs seized, as well as the unit's work on education and prevention.

Last year, the unit:

-- Served 48 search warrants, filed 91 felony and 282 misdemeanor charges and cleared 321 arrest warrants.

-- Seized 14 guns, three knives and a set of brass knuckles, along with about 352 grams of methamphetamine, 573 grams of marijuana, 9 grams of cocaine and 134 illegally possessed prescription pills.

-- Completed 136 new gang documentation forms, responded to 146 gang-related calls for service or contacts and made 49 visits to homes of gang members.

-- Conducted regular checks of graffiti-prone spots and reduced graffiti incidents by 58 percent compared to 2011.

-- Processed three "chop shops," where cars are stripped of parts, resulting in arrests.

Unit members also worked with other law enforcement agencies on gang issues, collaborated with corrections officers monitoring gang activity in the county jail, conducted several community and school presentations and forged a partnership with the gang outreach program FIRME, Keane said.

He also noted that the number of stolen vehicles in the county dropped 40 percent in 2012. Gang members are responsible for many of the auto thefts in the area, the news release said.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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