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Gang reduction efforts detailed

A new tool to measure gang related crime is now locally in place, attendees of last night's most recent gang reduction initiative meeting were told.

The information came via Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck, who reported that only 5 percent of police incidents logged as of Dec. 1 appeared to be gang related, bringing the number to 565. Non-gang related incidents so far in 2009 are tallied at 9,759, or 95 percent.

Schenck said the tool will be particularly useful in 2010, when the police department can begin to create data for comparison means in the future.

Noted in the year-to-date statistics for 2009 is a decrease in robbery incidents, from a total of 14 in 2008 to nine as of Dec. 1. Reported cases of theft are down significantly too, from 665 in 2008 to 442 so far this year. Reports of auto theft appear to be on the decline, as well, with 266 cases reported in 2008 and 128 cases reported thus far in 2009. In the information provided by Schenck, the only crime increase appears to be in arson cases, with a total of five incidents reported last year versus seven cases in the first 11 months of 2009.

Schenck then segued into the Sunnyside Police Department's plans to get citizens more involved in the future, notably with the use of neighborhood crime watches.

"The issue isn't vigilante patrols with people running around with pitchforks," said Schenck. "It's about neighbors being neighbors."

He said the police department is hoping to organize neighborhood crime watches throughout the city in 2010. "They'll be the next big step of what we can do," he said.

Those attending the Monday night meeting were dispensed a bit of not-so-good news in terms of a widespread desire to mentor community youth.

"This is not a volunteer thing," Schenck said of mentoring troubled youth. "We cannot manage the program without a full-time person." Schenck said. In order for that to be a reality, grant funding is a must, he added.

Lisa Fairbairn of Sunnyside's Promise gave an overview of the much lauded Lucky 7 bike repair program, which she said has graduated roughly 30 youths. She said that the program will start a new cycle in March.

She said donations for the program have come from as far away as Portland and Seattle. She also said the bike program afforded many parents the opportunity to spend time with their children.

Fairbairn also addressed the recently approved youth soccer fields located near the Law and Justice Center.

"We're in the process right now of developing the fields," she said, noting that groups like the 21st Century Learning Program and some Boy Scout troops have committed to helping with the project. Schenck added that efforts are underway to move dirt from South Hill to the fields, but as for who will manage the scheduling it is still not determined.

Schenck said that Outlook will see the intervention team in action, with a meeting slated for Jan. 4 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Outlook Elementary School.

"This is going to be the first piece of what the intervention team has been talking about for months," he said.

Schenck said the concept of the team is to be able to mobilize and help those in need of support after a potential crisis incident. The purpose of the January meeting is to hear citizen input.

That's something the police department would like to focus on via town hall meetings, Schenck added. He said efforts are underway to organize town hall meetings so citizens have a chance to articulate their concerns and make suggestions as to where they feel police emphasis should be put.

The next gang reduction initiative meeting is slated for Jan. 4 at Cornerstone Assembly of God Church in Sunnyside at 6:30 p.m.

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