The five-member gang team from the Benton County Sheriff's Office has been busy during about two years of operation, with its efforts paying off in a 45 percent reduction in gang crime, officials reported Tuesday.
Sheriff Steve Keane and Sgt. Carlos Trevino -- a gang team member -- presented highlights during the county commissioners' regular meeting in Prosser. Commissioners approved the unit in mid-2011; its first full year was 2012.
"Right now, what we're seeing is that we're making an impact," Keane said.
The team has executed 137 search warrants, filed 244 felony and 493 misdemeanor charges, cleared 709 arrest warrants, jailed 389 people, and seized 37 dangerous weapons, more than 16 pounds of drugs, several vehicles and more than $22,000 in cash from drug dealing, Trevino said. Graffiti is down 71 percent.
Trevino and Keane noted the county gang team works closely with other local law enforcement agencies.
It also has partnered with community groups on prevention and intervention, made presentations at schools and helped with a DARE-like program focused on gang resistance and education.
Team members have visited the homes of numerous gang members. "(That practice) helps because the gang member knows that we know they're there ... and then it helps give them resources to get out and to educate the parents about their kid being in gangs," Trevino said.
Commissioners praised the team, with chairman Shon Small saying, "all the work you guys are doing, the continued effort to make Benton County safer and more successful -- job well done."
The gang unit's two-year budget for 2013-14 is about $957,000. Keane said it's important to balance the expense against the high cost of gang-related crime -- from hospital stays to prosecution expenses to the impact on property values.
"The investments that were made in this unit have not only helped keep our community safer, but in the long run we're saving money," he said.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald