The newly formed Benton County gang task force has made a number of notable arrests, sending a message that gangs won't be tolerated in the county, sheriff's officials said.
Last month, seven search warrants were served by gang team detectives, resulting in 17 possible felony charges against suspects, Sgt. Jon Law told Benton County commissioners Tuesday.
Detectives also have recovered 11 pounds of marijuana and 40 grams of methamphetamine. They also have had a busy week and will have logged eight search warrants in a 10-day period, he said.
"The impact we've had has really been tremendous in the short amount of time we've had here," Law said.
Law highlighted a recent graffiti case in Prosser as an example. The detectives were able to work with Grandview police to identify the suspects and get warrants for their arrests.
That case sent a message to gang members in other counties that Benton County has the resources to track down suspects who come into Benton County to commit crimes and hold them accountable, Law said.
The sheriff's office gang team is the only one in the Tri-Cities specifically set up to investigate gang-related crimes. Other agencies, however, have special units that focus on gangs and other criminal activity that often links back to gangs.
Kennewick police have a gang detective, officers designated on each patrol shift that help gather and distribute gang intelligence to their squads, and undercover detectives on the Criminal Apprehension Team who focus on street-level drug crime and gangs.
Pasco police officials are considering starting a proactive enforcement team that will focus on gangs, said Capt. Jim Raymond. But it still is in the discussion stage, he said, adding that any decisions to hire more officers have to be made by the city manager and city council.
Richland police recently formed a Street Crimes Unit, which replaces the Proactive Anti-Crime Team, and there is an officer assigned to the SCU who focuses on tracking gang issues, said Capt. Mike Cobb.
The PAC Team focused on street-level drugs and more project-based investigations, but the SCU is more closely tied to what patrol officers have going on daily and are able to respond quicker "to the rapidly changing environment that we see with street crimes," he said.
All the agencies also are part of the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force, which targets mid- to upper-level drug dealers.
Benton County's gang team was formed earlier this year after county commissioners agreed to pay for the program for two years.
Since then, the detectives have trained with Metro and worked with CAT detectives, Law said. He added that he expects his team to continue to see an increase in activity once detectives get a little more connected with the gangs in the county.
Also Tuesday, Sheriff Steve Keane told them that Sgt. Carlos Trevino will be taking over as supervisor of the five-member team.
Law, who has led the team since June, is being promoted to captain, effective Jan. 1. He then will oversee the corrections division when Capt. Al Thompson retires.
The gang team is working on a conspiracy and criminal profiteering case involving gangs, and will start to focus on east Kennewick and Finley, where they have seen an increase in gang activity, Law said.
Detectives also will continue to focus on educating school staff, parents and community members about identifying gang members, and will be working with school resource officers and DARE officers too.