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County targets graffiti criminals

YAKIMA - Juveniles in Yakima County responsible for graffiti will no longer go straight home to mom and dad.

A detention cell will await them instead.

That was made clear yesterday by county commissioners who pumped funding into the juvenile detention center in Yakima to make room for graffiti criminals.

A consultant for the county court system, Harold Delia, presented the proposal yesterday.

"We have been noticing an increase in graffiti and gang activity in the Yakima Valley," Delia said yesterday. "It's important to the court that kids involved in graffiti have to be held accountable. Enough is enough."

To make space for graffiti criminals, the county will fund 14 more beds in its juvenile detention center. The move, effective as early as next month, means the detention center will have funding for 70 of the 92 beds it could have at full capacity.

The county's new push also will require "taggers" to paint over the graffiti they created.

Delia said the move is needed because paying restitution in the past took so long in making its way through the court system that the graffiti was often already painted over before the juvenile justice system ran its course.

This way, he notes, the offender will be required to address the graffiti while he or she is still in the juvenile system.

Targeting juveniles involved in graffiti crimes won't come cheap, as the county will spend $165,000 for seven additional officers.

And that's just for the next six months.

Next year the county anticipates spending $329,000 for the added bed space.

Budget Director Craig Warner said the juvenile court fund has enough money currently to fund the increase, but that a budget adjustment will be needed later this year.

Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder will tell you the cost is worthwhile.

"We've been in discussions with the county for some time," Radder said. "It (added detention beds) shows a cooperative relationship between us and the county."

Currently, Radder said when a Sunnyside police officer captures a "tagger" he or she has to "baby-sit" the juvenile at the police station until the parents come to pick him up.

Radder said that process can take hours in first locating the parents and then waiting for them to arrive.

By contrast, Sunnyside officers will transport juvenile graffiti criminals to the detention center and then return to duty in Sunnyside. The drive to and from Yakima, Radder notes, is about the same amount of time officers typically spend in watching juveniles here while waiting for parents to pick them up.

Further, he noted, the city jail has correction officers who could also be available to transport graffiti criminals to detention.

A first graffiti-related appearance at the detention center could garner a youth up to 30 days.

Whether it's 30 days or a few hours, though, Radder says the juveniles' time in detention will also be valuable because parents will now have to drive to Yakima to pick up their kids.

"It's getting parents involved earlier, getting parents and youth working together," he said.

County Commissioner Ron Gamache called the extra detention beds a first step in handling the "gang issue" while noting the steps Sunnyside took earlier this week in passing an anti-gang ordinance.

Radder says it's all about teamwork.

"I just think it shows a willingness by everyone to do whatever it takes to address these issues."

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