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New legislation introduced to combat criminal gang activity

Houses, cars and other assets used to support criminal gang activity could be seized by law enforcement, forfeited and sold under legislation proposed by Reps. Norm Johnson and Charles Ross.

Johnson pre-filed House Bill 2413 for introduction in the coming January legislative session after seeing gang violence in the Yakima area escalate to troubling proportions.

"Several homicides this year in our area are gang related. We've had shootings near schools, and gang violence is becoming rampant in some smaller, outlying communities. Law enforcement is very concerned, as well as local law-abiding citizens," said Johnson, R-Yakima.

"We are determined to make it very difficult for gangs to spread this plague into our neighborhoods. The legislation we propose will hit gangs where it hurts the most -- in the pocketbook. They stand to lose their most prized possessions if they engage in criminal activity."

The legislation is patterned after a drug asset seizure law, which allows law enforcement to legally confiscate and take possession of houses, cars, cash and other properties that have been proven to be involved in drug-related crimes.

Ninety percent of the proceeds from the assets would be retained by the seizing police agency exclusively for the expansion and improvement of criminal street gang-related law enforcement. The other 10 percent would be retained by the state.

"We are going to continue what we started with the gang legislation in 2007," said Ross, R-Naches. "The spread of gangs is like the spread of wildfire: we must find ways to shut off the supply to the growth. While this is not an easy battle, I believe we must do everything we can to end criminal activities and the spread of fear throughout our communities."

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 2414, would classify criminal gang activity as a nuisance and provide a process for neighbors or anyone within a one-block radius to file legal action to stop that activity.

"This legislation essentially empowers neighbors who are bothered by nearby criminal gangs to formally file a complaint and sign an affidavit outlining the suspected activity," said Johnson. "From there, law enforcement is mandated to investigate. This may follow with a court injunction, restraining orders, a search of the property, and other means to eliminate this nuisance, including possible arrests.

"If gang members are feeling the pressure of the community, the heat of law enforcement, and a strong possibility they will lose everything they own, they may think twice about continuing their involvement in these crimes."

Ross said it is amazing to him what neighbors and friends can accomplish when they stand up against gangs together.

"This legislation gives people a voice when they might otherwise be afraid, and encourages them to work with law enforcement to stop gang activities as they happen."

Both bills have bipartisan support with Republican and Democrat co-sponsors.

Locally, Sunnyside police think the bill is a step in the right direction.

Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder told the Daily Sun News the bill will put more teeth in gang laws. He said criminal gang members don't mind doing 30, 60 or even 90 days in jail, but do mind when their ill-gotten gains are taken from them.

"It has incredible potential," Radder said. "It could have positive impact on crime."

Radder added that there are lots of checks and balances before any property can just be seized.

Another boon would be the added money for criminal investigations. Currently, any money made on items seized in a drug crime is spent only on drug investigations. The same rule would apply here.

"It's shown to work in the drug world," Radder said. "I see no reason why it can't work in the gang world."

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