Gang awareness meeting Thursday in West Richland

West Richland residents are going to be asked to be the "eyes and ears" for officers to help them be more aware and reduce gang-related activity in the city before it becomes a problem.

Police Chief Brian McElroy wants to give residents tips about how to keep their neighborhoods safe, information about what to be on the look-out for and encourage them to not hesitate to call 911 if something suspicious is going on.

"Of course there's a lot of gang-related type of crime that's in the news on almost a daily basis," McElroy said. "We want to be proactive and be up front and educate them so we can try and reduce crime and have a positive effect."

The information will be presented at a gang awareness town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Enterprise Middle School, 5200 Paradise Way.

West Richland hasn't seen any significant gang-related crimes or an increase in crimes that may be connected, but they have had some graffiti around town and there have been some burglaries officers have investigated where a suspect may have a dad with some gang ties, he said.

"The desire is to try to prevent those things from happening," McElroy said. "The only way to do that is to get information out and up front."

McElroy also said there have been several vehicle prowls in the city and a couple of stolen vehicle reports where investigators have found a strong indication that the suspects were either gang-affiliated or in gangs. But, he added, it's not known if it was an organized gang activity or some gang members who went out on their own.

Even if the suspects aren't gang members, there could still be a link to gangs. In some recent burglaries, for example, firearms were stolen. Typically, stolen guns are going to be sold to people who can't lawfully get them, which means they could end up in the hands of gang members, McElroy said.

At the town hall meeting, residents will learn what gangs are, what they may look like and what kind of activity they may be seen doing. Officers will talk about how gang activities may be harmful or a threat to the public and what law enforcement and citizens can do to help prevent gang crimes or intervene.

There will also be a chance for community members to ask questions.

"It's just a good way for us to get that community contact going and exchange of information," McElroy said. "Community members have a lot of information that would be helpful for us to help keep the areas and neighborhoods and city safe. ... A discussion's a good way to start."