KENNEWICK — It's been more than two weeks since multiple shots were fired at Monopoly Park in a suspected gang confrontation and at least a dozen Kennewick officers returned to the park Wednesday evening.
But this time they weren't responding to a crime. The officers were joined by about 100 people who live in the neighborhood near Eighth Avenue and Date Street who stood ready to take back their park.
"We're here to let you know we're with you," said Officer Isaac Merkl, one of the department's specially designated patrol gang officers.
About 200 invitations were hand-delivered to homes around the small park.
"I wish every night was like this where this park is full of neighbors watching out for neighbors," said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.
On June 14, several bullets hit a home near the park on Elm Street, including one that struck a computer screen that a teen boy was using. The home's occupants do not have gang ties. Two people have been arrested in connection with the shooting.
The message Wednesday night to residents was get involved and call police about anything that seems suspicious. Officers would rather check out something and have it be nothing than not be called and have a crime being committed, they say.
For example, just a couple of nights ago, officers contacted three Norteno gang members who had been hanging out at the picnic table at the park, said Officer Dan Long, who also is one of the department's specially designated patrol gang officers.
Officers were responding to a call from a resident who lives across the street from the park and reported three teens -- one wearing a red shirt, one with red shoe laces -- were there and looked suspicious.
Cops found a marijuana pipe on one teen and all three have been banned from all of the city's parks, he said.
Long suggested people keep a pen and notebook by the phone so when they see something out of place, they can write it down and call police.
Georgina Mahone, 33, said she really liked that idea and plans to do just that.
Mahone doesn't live in the neighborhood, but her cousin, Stacia Miller, 35, does and her two children often are at the house playing with Miller's three children.
Miller, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, said it's a nice area, but things have gotten bad in the past two months.
"I'm a neighborhood watch person. I see everything," Miller said, adding that she will call police if something seems suspicious.
But, she echoed the message the officers were sending, saying others need to get involved.
"This (meeting) is a good step," Miller said. "I'm hoping our community, our neighbors, will take it a little further. We need the whole community watching. I can only do so much from one window."
Hohenberg said he knows there's been ongoing issues residents have complained about and police have the same concerns about criminal activity there.
Officers are trying to curtail crime, but there are only 90 commissioned officers on the force and they can't be everywhere or see everything, Hohenberg said.
"We really need your help as far as being good active partners," he said.
Several officers gave brief presentations about what they do and what resources are available in the city to help combat crime.
Kennewick's fire marshal talked about code enforcement issues and a city spokesperson told the crowd that there are lots of free or low-cost community events and activities for families and children.
Gang activity has been on the rise, and Kennewick Fire Chief Neil Hines said there has been an increase in arsons around the area with suspects setting vehicles, garbage cans and boats on fire.
Similar meetings also are being planned in other neighborhoods around Kennewick.
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org