Special Reports

Slayings not just Pasco problem, say city officials

Richland and Kennewick city officials said the recent slaying of five Hispanics in Pasco could be a sign of a Tri-Citywide crime problem.

However, they say they don't know what more they can do to help.

David Lewis, Richland police chief, said, "If the roots of this homicide are drugs, then that is a whole Yakima Valley type of thing. Drugs are such a widespread problem that law enforcement can't do it alone. Schools can't do it alone, and families can't do it alone. "

"I don't know if this homicide is only a terrible incident, or if it is part of a major problem," said Joe Painter, Kennewick city manager. "We all have to share the crime problem, and 1 think there is already excellent cooperation among the cities' law-enforcement agencies and State Patrol."

According to half-year statistics, serious crimes in Kennewick were up 10 percent from the same time last year. Pasco had a 3.4 percent increase, and Richland had a 3 percent decrease. Serious crimes include murder, rape robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. Richland is the only city of the three that did not have a murder this year.

"I don't know what would make Richland any different from the other cities. It is not my responsibility to analyze that. There are a lot of factors to look at," said Lewis.

Neal Shulman, Richland city manager, said he did not know if the multiple homicide is indicative of a deeper problem, but Pasco is an integral part of the Tri-Cities, and what happens in Pasco reflects on all.

He said no one is yet sure what the motives were behind the shooting. "Drugs are always a possibility, but to automatically blame drugs is jumping to conclusions. Unfortunately, drugs are so prevalent in our society that everyone assumes they are the cause."

Shulman said he believes the Tri-Cities have already banded together to solve problems. "The crowd control task force for the Water Follies and the Metro Drug Unit are two examples."

Lewis said the Tri-Citywide Metro Drug Unit will be only a temporary solution to the drug problem. "The bottom line is that there is so much money in drugs, it will be tough to ever have a long-term solution," he said. "We arrest someone and another comes in to take his place."

Richland Mayor John Poyner and Kennewick Mayor Vic Epperly said they feel the Tri-City police departments and two county sheriff departments already work well together.

Robert Farnkoff, chief of Kennewick police, said tougher sentences may be the only way to curtail the drug problem. "The punishment doesn't meet the crime, so there is no deterrent. I'm not pointing a finger at anybody, but putting someone away for three or four months in jail is not much of a deterrent."

Farnkoff said the Metro Drug Unit received a $213,000 federal grant last month that will add more officers to the unit. "This should help," he said.

Benton County Sheriff Jim Kennedy agreed the grant will enhance the Metro Drug Unit. "We need more law enforcement to put pressure on people, and this grant will help, but we also need community members willing to inform us if they are suspicious of drug problems."