Monday, August 10, 2009

Yakima- another front in the war on gangs

YAKIMA -- The focus on Yakima's gang problem so far, has been on suppression... Fighting fire with fire. You create havok, we create another emphasis patrol. And while a heavy police presence is a piece of the solution, even they know it will take much more.

This rundown building is one of a half a dozen faith based or non-profit organizations also fighting the gang problem in Yakima. But instead of battling for the high ground. They are battling for the hearts and minds.

Inside, Alex Santillanes is searching for another grant to support his efforts. He has run the local chapter of Neighborhoods United... "Barrios Unitos" for ten years.
He cringes at the thought of the city giving Yakima police $80,000 to run a new emphasis patrol for just thirty days.

"What could you do with $80,000? Well, with $80,000 I have ran my program and I have worked with over 2-300 young people."

And run it for an entire year.

Santillanes knows better than to think there is a quick fix to a 40-year old problem here.

...And so do those he's guided away from gang violence.

Marcelo Alvarado is a former gangbanger. "I was doing the shootings. I was doing the drugs. I was beating up people, stabbing you know."

Alvarado knows how to play the system only half as well as gang members do today.

"A cop can only do so much because he works his shift and he thinks like a gang member for that shift. And when he goes home, he has to be a family man. These gang members are 24 hours a day. They only think about making money, getting their prestige and their clout and making a name for themselves."

When city councils and cops think about making a difference in gang violence, Santillanes and Alvarado know first hand how effective prevention can be. The question they have for Yakima is, who's willing to invest it that piece of the puzzle?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gang Violence Plagues Washington Cities

By Mark Knapp

The City of Yakima has been experiencing an upsurge of gang related shootings. The Yakima City Council has called a special meeting for 1 p.m. Friday to discuss how to deal with a recent flare-up in gang violence. Several innocent victims have been wounded by stray rounds.

Some authorities refer to the shootings as a “state of emergency” for the city. Police Chief Sam Granato said gang members are becoming more aggressive in opening fire on one another. Eighteen people have been shot in Yakima since early May. One shooting occurred on August 2nd. Police officers responded to a report of gunshots early Sunday- the fourth reported gang shooting in 72 hours!

Police say they found 23 shell casings in the roadway. Officers also responded to the area near Domino's Pizza at Sixth and Union streets in reference to a 28 year-old male who had what appeared to be “a bullet hole in the back of his neck. The victim was taken to a local hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The shooting appears to be gang-related as the the shooters asked the victim is he was a gang member before they began shooting, police said.

Many folks in Yakima are concerned that these problems could result in inadvertently harassment of citizens legally wearing weapons for protection against predatory criminals in and around Yakima, an area known for cartel activities and drugs. Gun activists and other concerned citizens have been contacting the city council and other city officials to ask questions. The answers to many of their questions have not been forthcoming. Sometimes it almost seems like certain politicians regard the taxpayers as more threatening than some of the worst thugs on the streets. Ironically, many of the taxpayers feel that way toward elected officials.

Most law enforcement officers that we have talked to in Yakima, Federal Way and even places like Seattle and Tacoma are very comfortable with armed citizens that follow the rules. The trouble is that many LEOs are reluctant to publically tell the politicians what most LEOs know, that honest citizens that wear guns are a deterrent to criminals and make law enforcement easier! We will continue observing Yakima and reporting new developments. Our goal is to inform the politicians that have not already gotten the message- the voters are fed up with violence in the streets and want our leaders to take a stand.

Yakima does not need city council members attending more meetings to identify the problem. The predominant message from the residents of Yakima seems to be, "Let law enforcement do its job and start taking action to get the gang members off the streets."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yakima in Gang Crisis

YAKIMA -- City leaders are calling the gang violence upswing a crisis in Yakima, and may soon declare a state of emergency. We've been bringing you video from various shootings the last few days. Now, some feel the city needs an immediate change before worse happens.

Gang related shootings have been steady lately. You may remember footage of the double shooting that happened Monday night. That had Action News questioning residents on national night out. "Do you feel safe in your own neighborhood?" we asked. "Usually I don't go out that much. I try to keep the kids more inside," Norma Valencia said. "It's getting too much," William Bailey added. He said he was nearly tazered by a teen Monday night. Rayna Thimsen is taking extra safety precaution. "When I come to this park I do not come by myself. I always have someone."

It's a problem council members call a crisis. "I do believe when you have a shooting and that level of violence, it seems like every day in our city, that we must consider that a crisis," Council Member, Sonia Rodriguez told us.

They believe national night out will re-group neighborhoods against gang violence. The city hopes the event will help with crime prevention. But they say more still needs to be done.

"We're going to put a lot of bodies behind this," Yakima Police Chief, Sam Granato started, "It might even be as much as 100% of our staff on weekend nights." Police have already been given the go-ahead to start re-focusing their staff against gang activity within budget. Soon, the city might declare a state of emergency. "We're going to respond accordingly. We're not going to take this stuff anymore and the gang members are going to have to start looking over their shoulders for police units that are going to be looking at them," Granato said.

They're looking at the legality of a few things they would do under the declaration. The ideas: divert more officers to gang crime, create check points throughout the city, increase overtime, and cancel some scheduled vacations. "To make our community safe, to address this problem, we do need some sort of immediate response. It's just going to continue to grow," Rodriguez fears. But so will the action against gang violence.

Council members plan to call a special meeting within the next week to find out what they can do and what money they may be able to pull together to better fund police actions against gang violence.