A recent wave of shootings prompted a gang sweep across the Tri-Cities this week that landed 50 people in jail facing dozens of felony charges.
Local, state and federal agencies worked together to identify and arrest the suspects during the ninth gang sweep in the area since 2009.
Richland, Benton County and Kennewick law enforcement officials gathered at the Kennewick police station Thursday to release details of the investigation.
The sweep from Tuesday through Thursday took some high-level gang members off the street, police said.
The investigation resulted in charges or warrants for 62 felonies and 43 misdemeanors.
Police did not release specific names.
In all, authorities have arrested 328 people in similar sweeps in the Tri-Cities since 2009.
“A key message here is for the people that are engaged in criminal gang activity: We are united as law enforcement on both sides of the river,” said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg. “This was a very effective sweep. Our targets were some key players of criminal gang (activity) in the Tri-Cities.”
Almost every law enforcement agency in Benton and Franklin counties participated. The U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security and the Washington State Department of Corrections also were involved.
There have been 10 gang-related shootings in Pasco and Kennewick since March, police said. Suspects fired 161 rounds during the incidents, injuring and killing several people.
Police said the sweep was in response to several recent shootings in Pasco and a shooting earlier this month in Kennewick.
Three Pasco shootings, apparently the result on an on-going gang feud, claimed the lives of two men and left five others hurt. The shootings — which police have called “targeted assaults” — happened from Nov. 18 to Dec. 3.
Hohenberg told a small crowd Thursday that people in the community are fed up with the gang violence and Tri-City officials are working to ensure programs are in place to stop it.
The recently passed 0.3 percent public safety sales tax in Benton County will provide $500,000 annually to fight gangs and work on prevention programs, Hohenberg said. Officials want to focus heavily on the prevention side, hoping to provide youth with better alternatives to the streets.
Hohenberg said gangs are a community issue, and he believes the extra money will allow officials to properly fight gang violence for the first time.
“From my perspective this past year was one of our better years,” he said. “However, the few incidents we had (were) not only violent but fatal incidents. ... The challenge is how do we reduce that? How do we eliminate that all together?”
Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner and Benton County Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Vannoy also attended the news conference. Skinner agreed that better funding will help fight gangs, but he also emphasized that reducing truancy will deter youth from gravitating toward gangs.
“That’s how you start to unwind from an existing problem is you grow generations of kids that are making better decisions than the generation before them,” Skinner said.