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Sunnyside's Promise seeks to take action against criminal gangs

The time for talking is over, says Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder, it's time to take action in addressing the problem of criminal gangs.

That was the message from a public meeting yesterday, Thursday, during a Sunnyside's Promise gathering focused on gang issues.

Sunnyside Police Detective Jim Ortiz told the roundtable full of people at the school district's Denny Blaine building that there are anywhere from 300 to 1,000 active gang members in the city.

Getting a concise count is difficult, he noted, because "for every one that we bring in there's another two or three under the radar."

Among the factors contributing to gang activity, said John Hughes of the Sunnyside School District, is truancy in the schools. "There are hundreds and hundreds every day," Hughes said.

He also noted that many children are in effect "raised by their neighborhood," as both parents work, leaving the child at home alone or in the care of older siblings.

The presence of gangs is also being felt at Sunnyside Community Hospital.

LaDon and Sandra Linde work for the hospital and they said yesterday that Sunnyside's gang reputation has made it difficult to draw nurses and medical professionals to the hospital.

A pair of recent gang shootings also served to frighten staff, Sandra Linde said.

Instead of getting the usual advance word from police the victim of a gang shooting is in transit by ambulance to the hospital, victims of the two most recent gangland shootings drove themselves or were driven and left at the hospital unannounced.

As a result, Linde said the hospital is in the process of contracting for a fulltime police officer instead of hiring an officer half of the day and a security guard for the remainder.

In keeping with the spirit of the meeting seeking action, there was an idea proposed yesterday to help detour youths from gangs. Henry te Velde is part of a group that hopes to finds 25 jobs for 25 young people. He says the plan requires employers to only hire the teens part-time for four weeks, long enough it's hoped to give youths a sense of the value in being a part of society.

Other future plans call for meetings between the Sunnyside's Promise board and some of the students in the Choices program, a teaching effort geared to youths involved in gangs.

A follow-up strategic planning meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Denny Blaine building. The session will include breaking the audience up into smaller groups to brainstorm ideas for gang intervention, prevention and suppression.

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