We don't want to become another Yakima.
While we hate to slam the city because it has many great attributes, its gang problem is obvious. And scary. Very scary.
Yakima had 17 gang-related homicides last year. Tri-Cities had one.
The problem has gotten out of hand in Yakima, and we can't afford to let that happen here. We think the Benton County commissioners should waste no time in approving our sheriff's request for $765,000 to form a gang task force.
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Yes, that's a lot of money. But combating gang violence is a really important initiative.
Benton County has the money, so the cost is not really an issue at this point. There will be money left over in a special account once a jail construction bond is paid off later this year. The money comes from the rent the county receives from other jurisdictions to house their inmates.
The money would be used to implement a two-year development plan for the task force, which would consist of a dedicated team of three deputies and a sergeant. In the long-term, the sheriff would like the income from cell rental to be the permanent source of paying for the task force.
Commissioner Leo Bowman said added attention to gangs will affect the justice system. Let's hope he's right. Criminals should be in jail. And this task force gives us a lot more hope that they will be headed there and prevented from posing a risk to public safety.
The key is to stay ahead of gangs in our community, otherwise the violence is bound to increase. Pasco has had a spate of gang-related violence just this month, with five crimes in just a span of two weeks, including a shooting and a beating.
Most police departments in the region have a detective or two who are assigned to cover gangs. But none has a task force. And while we were hoping the Tri-Cities would have a gang unit patterned after the Metro Drug Task Force, with representatives from multiple departments, we fully support Benton County's effort.
The sheriff brought up the idea in February, and Undersheriff Jerry Hatcher presented a solid plan to commissioners earlier this week. With a clear source for paying for the two-year start-up phase, a likelihood that cell rental income can be used for future funding and the support of the commissioners, we don't see many hurdles in the way of establishing the force.
But they need to hear from you. A public hearing is set June 6, and the money could be approved then. We're sure phone calls and e-mails from Benton County residents who believe strongly that a proactive approach to gangs is the best way to curb the problem would be well received before the hearing.
We certainly don't want to see our headlines dominated by issues of gang violence. A safe and solid community is the reputation we'd like the Tri-Cities to have.
Let the commissioners know how important this task force is to the quality of life here.