OTHELLO — Othello's mayor pro tem wants his city to crack down on gang members to make his town safe again.
"Our community has had enough," said Ken Johnson, who suggested the city council approve a gang ordinance that would allow judges to add penalties to gang-related criminal convictions.
The ordinance outlines jail time penalties and fines for people who recruit for gangs and loiter in public with the intent to publicize gang territory. It proposes a $1,000 fine for legal guardians who allow minors or fail to control minors who commit criminal gang activity.
The proposal defines a criminal street gang as a group of three or more with identifiable leadership, name, sign or symbol that commits criminal acts.
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The ordinance was introduced at Othello City Council's council meeting earlier this month and will be discussed again at Monday's council meeting.
The proposed law comes on the heels of three gang-related drive-by shootings in May, said Othello Police Chief Steve Dunnagan. The Norteos and Sureos are gangs present in the city, he said.
Drive-by shootings have occurred in Othello in the past, but having three within such a short period of time is unusual, Dunnagan said. The shootings were May 13, 21 and 31.
On May 31, Julio V. Cervantes, 17, was killed in a drive-by shooting while he was standing in an alley with another teen. A 14-year-old boy was shot in the leg in the May 13 shooting and no one was injured in the May 21 shooting, Dunnagan said.
Police investigation continues, though all three cases have been solved and charges filed in each case, he said.
"Crime is crime," regardless if it is committed by someone who claims affiliation with a gang and those involved know each other, Dunnagan said.
Of the three homicides in Othello since Dunnagan arrived about five years ago, he said one was gang-related.
"Our job is to suppress crime when it happens and try to prevent it from happening," he said.
Johnson said it's time for the community to do something to address the gang issue and that it isn't just a problem for police to deal with.
Othello lost many of its youth activities about four years ago, Johnson said. There is no longer a Boys & Girls Club, a summer parks and recreation program, a DARE drug education program in schools and other activities.
"I think we are starting to feel the repercussions of that," he said.
Ehman Sheldon, Othello city administrator, anticipates the city council will wait to decide on the ordinance until after a Thursday community forum where officials hope to receive community input.
The community forum on gang prevention and solutions will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at the McFarland Junior High School gym, 790 S. 10th Ave., Othello.
Suggestions from the forum could end up being included in the ordinance, Sheldon said.
Johnson said he researched what other cities had done for gang ordinances and used Union Gap and Yakima's ordinances as a basis.
The need for community involvement to solve the problem is why the Thursday forum is important, Johnson said. Police lead suppression, but it's the community that helps prevent gang activity.
Citizens need to let police know when they see something that is relevant to a crime, Dunnagan said. People may see or hear something that would help solve a crime but they don't always call.
Johnson said gang violence in Othello has been escalating. "We deserve a safe community," he said.