Gang activity is a communitywide problem that needs a communitywide solution.
In fact, we need to reach beyond our community if we hope to make a lasting change.
We appreciate that Tri-City police officers and sheriff deputies have made combating gang activity a priority. The philosophy from law enforcement agencies in this community has been to let the gang members know that they aren't tolerated here.
It's an approach that has been working fairly well for us -- although our neighbors might not appreciate our zeal.
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Reducing gang activity in the Tri-Cities often increases gang activity in other places. Outlying areas like Mattawa or Royal City sometimes suffer the fallout of our streets becoming cleaner.
A Tri-City Herald editorial from 2010 detailed that Royal City, population 2,000, had three police officers and 50 known gang members.
In the long run, it's been a game of Whack-a-Mole.
That's one reason we're encouraged by the recently formed Benton County Gang Enforcement Team's approach.
Not only does the team arrest gang members, but team members also make home visits to know gang members' homes to give kids options and help if they're trying to get out of a gang.
Yes, they still do a lot of enforcement, but they're doing a lot of prevention and intervention, too.
The gang team is also working with other jurisdictions such as Walla Walla and Yakima to keep the whole region safer.
And they are taking their efforts to the frontline of the battle to reclaim the kids who are headed for trouble -- collaborating with parents, school officials, housing managers and other Mid-Columbia groups that have an interest in the youth.
Parents need to be involved. They need to know what path their kids are on, where it could lead and where the nearest exit is.
This also is true for every adult and authority figure in these kids' lives.
Pressure has to come from more than the police.
Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane is talking about branching out even more, developing relationships with organizations like Teen Challenge, a nonprofit that helps teens and young men break substance abuse addictions.
All of these relationships spin a web through our community that helps create a safety net. We are stronger when these cords are connected to each other.
The gang enforcement team was established last year, and it's not cheap. The cost of the five-man team and supplies runs about $380,000 a year.
Some of that funding comes from grants and some from taxpayers.
But jails and prisons also are not cheap.
The initial gang enforcement team was funded for two years. Its future is uncertain.
In the above-quoted editorial (written before the team came online) Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said, "I think the message is clear: Tri-Cities is not a great place to be if you're a criminal gang member. People can either choose to get out of criminal gangs or they can choose to get out of the Tri-Cities or they're going to go to jail."
Of those options, we prefer the middle choice. It's the best course for everyone involved. We're glad to see the community, with its many connections, working toward making that happen.