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Sunnyside close to adopting law that cracks down on street gangs

It appears the city of Sunnyside will be the first in the state to adopt an ordinance making it unlawful to belong to a criminal street gang.

Last night the city council reviewed a draft of the ordinance and is so eager to get it on the books it will have a special meeting next Monday, May 21, just to formally adopt the ordinance.

"The sooner the better," Councilman Bruce Epps said of adoption. "Let's get it going."

The ordinance specifically prohibits criminal street gang activity, punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

It further makes it illegal to solicit new criminal gang members or threaten others from leaving the gang.

The measure also targets parents of gang members, stating that they can be fined up to $1,000 if their child is found to be in a criminal street gang.

City Attorney Mark Kunkler suggested the draft language be revised to read that parents face a civil penalty rather than a criminal misdemeanor charge to provide greater flexibility for those who are unaware of their child's gang activity. He noted the document has already been through nine revisions.

City Manager Bob Stockwell added that the state Attorney General's office also advised the change. Other than that, though, Stockwell said the city has been encouraged by the AG's office to move forward with the ordinance.

The Washington State legislature failed to approve a measure presented for consideration during the recent session that would have made it illegal to belong to a criminal gang.

Taking a cue from similar legislation in California, Sunnyside crafted its ordinance and has been told that other cities in the state may follow suit in passing their own ordinances.

"We've been told this may show up in other cities in the state," Stockwell noted.

Police Chief Ed Radder said the presentation of the ordinance just weeks after a teen shot and killed a man in Outlook is only coincidental, noting it had been in the works for several months.

Radder said the ordinance is not intended to limit free speech, noting that the right to expression should not interfere with the public's right to feel safe.

Though council was unanimous in supporting the ordinance, the lone note of discord was struck when council member Carol Stone asked that language in the ordinance be removed that indicated Sunnyside was in a "crisis" situation related to gangs, noting that 50 adults and 200 juveniles in gangs represents a small portion of the population.

"I disagree, we are in a crisis," said Councilman Paul Garcia. "We have to take the next step."

Added Mayor pro tem Jim Restucci, "We are in a crisis in that the state legislature failed to act and this is an opportunity to force them to act."

Mayor Ed Prilucik weighed in, "This reflects what I hear from people in the city."

The city council will hold a special meeting next Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the law and justice center with the lone agenda item being action on the gang ordinance.

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