The tentacles of gang activity reach into every community of Eastern Washington. It's a creature that has to be stopped.
A multi-agency approach of wide and frequent sweeps should go a long way toward doing just that.
One thing that makes gangs hard to fight is the members' mobility. When police in one city crack down, it's easy enough for gang members and associates to shift location. So cleaning up Pasco, for example, might be a bad thing for Kennewick.
One quick hop across the Columbia River and you're in a different city, a different county and a different jurisdiction.
On a larger scale, running gangs out of Yakima might not be so good for the Tri-Cities. The heat may be on in the upper Valley, but we're just a few miles down the road.
We're not telling the police anything new, of course. This criminal version of the Whack-a-Mole arcade game is a well-understood phenomenon.
Knock a problem down here, and it pops up over there.
Fortunately, law enforcement agencies in the Mid-Columbia are devising strategies to tighten the net and make things uncomfortable for gangsters no matter where they pop up.
Through coordination, cooperation and information sharing, city, county and federal forces netted 80 fugitives with suspected gang ties last month.
More than 100 officers from 20 agencies participated in a three-day roundup dubbed Operation Valley Thunder. It's the type of teamwork that can result in safer neighborhoods throughout the region.
The latest crackdown was a repeat and extension of the Tri-Cities Operation Clean Sweep in July, which targeted 28 people with warrants from the Tri-Cities.
But why stop there?
This is a problem for all of Eastern Washington. Police know it's essential to find solutions that address the entire region, as last month's effort did.
"This gang sweep was initiated because of the terrible gang problem we've been having," said James McDevitt, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.
"Criminal gang activity is the cancer that eats away at Eastern Washington and society in general."
Police are tasked with taking care of the bad guys, but they aren't in it alone. Their success depends on community support.
We can all learn a lesson from the coordinated effort of police agencies and work together to combat gangs.
Schools, churches, social groups and neighborhoods need to work in concert to keep our communities safe.
Operation Clean Sweep included giving the public names and photos of suspected gang members targeted for arrest.
This approach sends two messages to the bad guys: The police know who you are, and the whole town is helping them look for you.
There's more that can be done, and will take every agency, every parent, every school, every church and every group.
It's a big job, one that's bigger than any one person or group can take on, but together we can do it.