OLYMPIA - Led by Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna's office, several law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others spoke in support of more advanced gang intervention and suppression activities last Friday in Olympia.
McKenna, legislators and law enforcement officers supporting the bill took advantage of a special legislative session and were granted an opportunity to pitch it to the House Public Safety Committee.
Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, a member of the committee and former sponsor of several anti-gang proposals, said he felt the hearing was productive and is impressed with the work of the attorney general.
Several questions were asked during the committee about how the new proposals would ensure racial profiling does not occur. The answer, given by Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder, is using definitions of gang members in state law and using the requested tools to focus on specific individuals who are committing crimes.
"Our continual hang-up with the gang legislation is the concern about racial profiling. The attorney general's office has done an immense amount of work to address this," Ross said.
Don Pierce from the Washington Association of Sheriff and Police Chiefs also testified that the gang proposals this year are much different than ones in previous years, as this time around the efforts are much more narrowly focused on those committing the crimes.
"This problem won't go away. There is more to be done at the state level, and we have to act now, before more young people are murdered in our streets," Ross said.
Testimony was given by Phil Sorensen with the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office. By taking gang members off the streets in Pierce County, it has resulted in a decrease in criminal activity, he said.
Chief Radder testified he saw a similar response in Sunnyside. After a string of drive-by shootings, the city passed an anti-gang ordinance and experienced 43 days without a shooting, he said.
McKenna's proposals, announced last month in Yakima, offer prevention and intervention, as well as prosecutorial measures to reduce gang violence.
Ross said the next step after last Friday's hearing is to find bipartisan support for legislation to begin moving it through the legislative process.
"The locals in the Yakima area have worked so hard to take back their streets - from neighborhood watches to after school programs and everything in between. However, we have been told that these programs aren't as effective if the gang members have no one to answer to and are continuing to terrify fellow youth into coming back to the streets," he said.
Ross added, "I'm proud of what my community is doing to address this problem. Hopefully now the legislature can deliver something that gives our communities something more to respond to the violence."
The legislature is set to convene for the 2011 legislative session Monday, Jan. 10, 2011.