WEST RICHLAND -- Strong neighborhoods are a tool to stop gang violence and residents need to take a "no tolerance" stance to keep gangs out of the community.
That's what around 75 residents in West Richland were told Thursday night at the gang awareness town hall meeting at Enterprise Middle School.
"Get to know your neighbors," said West Richland police Officer Ryan Boyce. "Develop and maintain a neighborhood appearance that does not invite gang activity."
The goal of the town hall meeting was to give residents information about gangs that are in West Richland and the Tri-Cities, and let them know what to be on the look out for to prevent crimes from happening in town.
Residents got a quick summary about what gangs are, which gangs have members in West Richland and the Tri-Cities, and what gang graffiti looks like.
Boyce said there are about 700 gang members in the Tri-Cities. Adults make up 74 percent of gang members, but the 26 percent of juvenile gang members are the active ones taking orders from adults and trying to prove themselves, he said.
"West Richland has kind of been isolated," Boyce said. "We have been fortunate enough that we have been isolated from the activity going on in the surrounding community."
Stacy Ryan, the police department's crime analyst, talked about how gangs used graffiti to mark or claim their territory and how police use graffiti to find out which gangs are in the area or fighting with each other.
"It comes in waves. One day they can be friends, the next day they can be fighting," Ryan said.
Residents were told to take pictures of graffiti they see on their property and report it to officers who keep track of it.
She also said parents can look at what kids are writing in notebooks or even on their hands, such as washable tattoos, for warning signs.
Prevention, intervention, suppression and re-entry programs are key to stopping gangs from increasing in the area, officials said. It takes a whole community -- from parents, to schools, to law enforcement, to fight it.
The main thing parents can do is talk to children about gangs and ways to deal with pressure from friends or peers, Boyce said.
"If you're not talking with them, there's no way they're going to be communicating back to you," he said.
Residents asked if there have been specific increases in gang-related crimes against property or people, and Boyce said West Richland has been fortunate, but some recent burglaries in which firearms were stolen could be linked back to gangs if those guns are sold.
One resident at the meeting, a business owner who didn't want to give his name, asked how much pressure officers are putting on gang members in town and what can be done to get them to face tougher penalties when they are caught.
"Honestly, I don't want them in my community. ... How much pressure are we putting on these people to get them the heck out of our community?" he asked.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, who also is a Benton County sheriff's deputy and was at the town hall meeting in uniform, said the laws about gangs can be changed and attempts have been made in Olympia to make stiffer penalties.
During the last legislative session, a hearing room was packed with people opposing stiffer penalties and the bill didn't get out of the committee said.
"Community involvement is imperative," Klippert said. "We need you to be involved not only here in the community, but we need people to show up in Olympia."