McKenna talks with area police about gangs

Education, public safety and the economy make up a good community, said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who spent Friday in the Tri-Cities.

McKenna, a candidate for governor, visited Broetje Orchards and attended a ribbon cutting for newly renovated Southgate Elementary School in Kennewick.

He then had a lunch meeting at the Kennewick police station with police and fire officials and city leaders at which he talked about ways he wants to help support the Tri-Cities. Officials also had a chance to discuss their concerns with him.

"You really cannot have a quality of life without safe communities," he said. "We have some challenges here. I've talked to you many times and I'm not taking my eye off the ball."

McKenna referenced legislation he proposed in Olympia earlier this year to help curb gang activity. It failed to move out of committee because opponents said they wanted to see more intervention and prevention programs, but McKenna said he will tackle the issue again during the next legislative session.

"By the time you're interacting with them, it's too late," he said to the law enforcement officers.

McKenna said he will always be an advocate for law enforcement and fire safety in Olympia -- regardless what job he holds -- and said he was excited to get a first-hand look at what a police officer's job is like.

He said he previously rode along with Yakima police's gang unit and found it to be "a real eye opener." McKenna was expected to spend a couple of hours Friday night on the street with Kennewick police's Criminal Apprehension Team detectives.

"We do have our share of challenges out there and we're in the fight every day," said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg. "Our goal tonight is to kind of expose you to what we do on a nightly basis."

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said it'd be nice if some money set aside for marijuana eradication could be used for gang prevention so they can "put the money where the problem is."

Keane said McKenna is in touch with what the community needs to take a tough stance on gangs, but he's worried about how much longer officers can keep fighting the gang war without more help.

"It's getting to the point where so much of our resources are spent dealing with that issue and a place to put them in juvenile (detention). I wonder how much longer it's going to be before it gets out of control," he said.

Hohenberg also said unfunded state mandates are putting more of a burden on local agencies. For example, agencies just learned they have to pay more than $3,000 to send a new recruit to the academy. Hohenberg said he has no budget for that, but will have to find a way to cover it.