Fewer property crimes led to a 15 percent drop in the major crime rate in Benton County last year, according to statistics released by the sheriff's office.
There were 103 fewer burglaries and thefts reported in the county in 2013, the sheriff's office said. There were 495 property crimes reported, including car thefts.
A proactive approach by patrol deputies to stay visible in the community and the gang team's ability to develop informants contributed to the drop, said Sheriff Steve Keane.
Property crimes are routinely crimes of opportunity, making them hard to investigate and solve, he said.
The sheriff's office solved almost a quarter of the 445 thefts and burglaries reported in the county, as well as 38 percent of the auto thefts, he said.
"We really saturate certain areas and we are aggressive with stopping people," Keane said. "What we are doing on patrol is some of the best work we have had in the 22 years I've been here."
Keane also credited the five-person gang team for helping to take drugs off the streets and arrest violent criminals who have outstanding warrants.
The team served 97 search warrants around the county and helped arrest at least 178 suspects on felony-related charges, the sheriff's office said.
The team also seized 1,186 grams of methamphetamine.
Keane said the gang team is doing a good job of tracking gang members in the county and offering individual help if they want to get off the streets.
"We know where the gang houses in the county are," he said. "Our gang unit has actually made contact with every single one of them."
There were 547 major crimes reported in the county last year. That's down from 646 the pervious year, the sheriff's office said. Major crimes include, homicide, rape, assault, robbery and burglary.
The sheriff's office was able to clear 32 percent of major crimes last year, which is above the national average, the sheriff's office said. That number also is up from the 21 percent of major crimes cleared in 2012.
There were four cases classified as homicides that the sheriff's office investigated in 2013.
In two of the cases, more than one person was charged with murder related to the deaths of Michael Edwards, 55, who was stabbed to death near his Benton City home in September, and Preston Yahne, 22, who was believed to be killed near Prosser, though his body was found in the trunk of a car near Sunnyside in June.
Another case was a vehicular homicide in which Carlos Ochoa, 16, and Kevin Lopez-Gonzales, 16, died in January 2013 when their friend was speeding and crashed into some trees in the Lower Yakima Valley.
And in March 2013, Jerry Barton, 53, was shot and killed during a family dispute in Finley but his death was later ruled a justifiable homicide.
Keane attributes his department's success last year to the relationship the different law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Cities have developed over the years.
"People overall in the Tri-Cities feel like we have a safe community," Keane said. "That is because all of us work so closely together."
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson