Quick police work helps fight growing gang menace

Kennewick police are giving a lot of credit to civilians for the quick resolution of the gang shooting near a bank last week.

The citizens, particularly the bank employee who witnessed part of the drama and first called it in, deserve all the credit they can get.

But so do the Kennewick police.

Their response to the first alarm of gunshots was textbook police work: speedy reaction in overwhelming numbers.

Cars tore through town at near light speed, it seemed to onlookers, with an ambulance trailing along well behind.

And when police took control of the scene, they found gang members involved in the conflict, one of them shot in the stomach. The suspected shooter, a gang veteran who had been involved in previous violent clashes, including being a shooting victim himself, was arrested nearby.

From Chief Ken Hohenberg to every officer on the force, it appears that gang violence will be opposed as quickly as possible and with as much force as is available.

It is the answer to the question, "What do we do now?"

The Tri-City area has long suffered from gang violence, and our communities are fed up with it.

Yes, it's true that police are in the forefront of groups trying to steer young people away from the gang life. They have been doing it for years. Decades. Right here in the Tri-Cities.

But when the good counseling and demonstrations of good behavior aren't enough, it's time to bring the hammer down.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna's proposed legislative package for the 2011 legislative session includes some provisions aimed especially at combating gangs.

"No one I know of in law enforcement thinks we can arrest our way out of the gang problem," he told the Herald Wednesday.

He would like to see a statewide competitive grant process for gang violence prevention programs in local communities. But with the Legislature's certain focus on its budget problems, chances for any new programs appear dim at best.

But on the enforcement side, he has some proposals that make a lot of sense:

w Make reporting by hospitals of all gunshot and stab wounds mandatory instead of only if the victim is unconscious, as the law stands now.

w Make an additional five-year penalty available if prosecutors can tie violence to gang activity.

w Double the penalty for gang offenses that occur on or near school property.

w Expand criminal penalties for threatening public school students to include gang threats against any citizen.

w Authorize communities to seek forfeiture of private property on which three unrelated gang-related behaviors have occurred in the prior year.

McKenna also described Washington as one of the most under-policed states in the nation.

That is, in sworn officers as a percentage of population, we rank near the bottom.

Good police work, as demonstrated by Kennewick officers in this case, will work even better when the number of officers can grow to meet the demand.

In the meantime, we must rely on the noble few to continue their excellent work.

We're grateful to them for volunteering for and faithfully executing their dangerous jobs.