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State AG stresses need for fight against gangs

MABTON - Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is seeking election to the governor's seat, yesterday met with the Yakima County Gang Commission in Mabton to detail plans for the 2012 legislative session due to begin Jan. 9.

Also present for the meeting were Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches; Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside; and Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.

McKenna said he and legislators are working on providing Washington communities with more tools in the fight against gangs. Actions being taken now after bills in 2011 didn't make it past the public safety and emergency preparedness committee involve what McKenna referred to as a "piecemeal approach." Efforts in 2011 were thwarted by civil rights organizations like the ACLU, and he said the proponents of the fight against gangs have decided a different approach is needed.

"It's (gangs) a statewide problem," said McKenna. "It's not just a Yakima problem."

He said 2008 legislation, which provides judges the ability to sentence criminal gang members with a gang enhancement, lengthening the sentence, was successful. However, law enforcement officials and citizens across the state want more.

"We all recognize we need a strategy for keeping children from getting involved in gangs," said McKenna, noting communities also want prevention and intervention measures to be taken in the fight against gangs.

Just before the Yakima County Gang Commission meeting, McKenna met with several Sunnyside officials and citizens to talk about the efforts of Sunnyside's Promise, which he believes is an intervention/prevention model for the entire state.

He said he was impressed with the programs and efforts of those working with the organization.

"I learned about the collaboration," said McKenna, stating partnerships between the city, hospital and schools is a good example from which other communities can learn.

He said the programs and activities help youth in the community.

Although the proposed 2012 legislation (House Bill 2996), which is sponsored by Ross and Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, doesn't address intervention and prevention, McKenna said it is a piece of the puzzle.

Ross, said McKenna, "...has led the way," working with other legislators to secure the passage of anti-gang laws.

"Yakima County is a model for the rest of the state," he said, stating there are many measures being taken in the county in the battle against gangs, including gang court.

McKenna said there is a community effort here, and "we have to have a community-based effort in Olympia."

He urged citizens to submit testimony to legislators, especially when House Bill 2996 is brought forth. That bill will address injunctions that prevent gang members from associating with one another.

Ross said the bill is ready to be filed and he would appreciate citizen letters to the legislators, especially because there is a lot of opposition to injunctions, particularly by civil rights groups.

He said injunctions have been successful in California and as a result, many gang members are opposed to them in Washington.

"The bill is very focused," said Ross, stating the piece by piece approach to enacting new laws targeted at criminal gangs is meant to "dismantle" them.

He said, "We were ambushed last year." He said the civil rights groups were out in force and he would like proponents to speak out in favor of the injunction bill.

There are other legislators who are working on intervention and prevention legislation, but Ross said he is focused on the injunction bill.

"Injunctions make a considerable and noticeable difference," he said.

In addition to new legislation being proposed in 2012, the Yakima County Gang Commission talked about the possibility of developing a program for community juvenile accountability centers.

The centers would be located in communities, and Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey said Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci was enthusiastic about the idea.

Restucci was unable to attend yesterday's meeting, but Bouchey said the mayor believes community juvenile accountability centers would help families break the cycle of criminal behavior.

A community juvenile accountability center would involve a board that consists of officials invested in the best interests of juveniles. They would be officials from agencies like the Department of Social and Health Services, mental health professionals, the schools and other groups.

The community juvenile accountability centers would be developed to provide resources to families and the juveniles, rather than having juvenile offenders committed to a detention center, according to Bouchey.

Gang court, he said, is an example of how the process might work.

Jennie McGhan/Daily Sun News

Washington State Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna (left), Yakima City Councilwoman Maureen Adkinson and Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey were among those attending the Yakima County Gang Commission meeting in Mabton yesterday. McKenna talked with those attending the meeting about proposed gang legislation.

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