Ephrata — After 16-year-old Brandon Mende was gunned down by another teen in an apparent gang feud earlier this year, the prosecuting attorney's office created a task force that has been building a gang member database and aggressively going after probation violators.
The work is being done to combat the rise of street gangs in Moses Lake.
The Gang Prosecution Taskforce has logged 34 probation violations in the past month in an attempt to keep repeat offenders behind bars, said county Prosecuting Attorney Angus Lee.
"We are approaching this problem from all different angles, and probation violations are just one of the tools we are using. But when a tool works like this appears to be, we will keep using it," he said in a prepared statement.
Of the 34 violators, five were sentenced to between 10 and 60 days behind bars, and arrest warrants were issued for two others. The remainder of the violators will have probation hearings later this month.
The office has also been working closely with area law enforcement in reviewing case files to identify high-level gang members.
"Members of criminal street gangs need to realize that their criminal behavior is what determines how high of a priority they will become. Our top priority will be the worst of the worst," Lee said.
Lee explained that he had one objective when creating the task force: to decrease the effects of gang crime on the community through deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation of criminal gang members.
His office will be prosecuting truancy violators more aggressively in an attempt to keep teens in school and off the street.
"Studies have shown that just before a juvenile decides to join a gan,g he quits after-school activities and then he stops going to school," Lee said. In keeping teens in school, Lee said he hopes to deter them from joining a gang and starting criminal behavior.
In March, county commissioners worked with the sheriff's office in reassigning more deputies to the Larson Housing Area, where Mende was killed and many drive-by shootings have occurred.
Commissioners also approved Lee's request to change the traffic enforcement prosecutor to a full-time gang enforcement prosecutor.
"We need to be capable of prosecuting gang members aggressively in each and every courtroom in Grant County at the same time," Lee wrote commissioners in a letter.
Commissioners have also followed the sheriff's office request and are looking into installing more streetlights and cameras in the Larson Housing area to monitor for illegal behavior.