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City council asked to get tough on crime

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Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder provides council members with information regarding six recommendations presented by the public safety committee at a special council meeting Monday.

The Sunnyside City Council last night was provided a list of six recommendations for fighting gang activity. That list was compiled by the council's subcommittee on public safety and is up for consideration and discussion.

The list, admitted Councilman Don Vlieger, is costly. He is on the chair of the public safety committee and said, "It's an integrated strategy."

He said the items recommended to council are interconnected and when council considers whether or not to adopt the recommendations, all six items need to be adopted.

Councilman Pablo Garcia, too, is on the committee and introduced the first item on the list of recommendations. He said a crime analyst would be beneficial to the community, and to explain the benefits of such a position the committee is seeking an analyst from another community to provide council with a presentation.

Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder said crime analysts compile information so it will be more easily accessible to police officers in the field.

He said the position being requested is a full-time, committed crime analyst.

Vlieger said the crime analyst adds a third element to combating crime, the predictive element.

Radder agreed, "Predictive (crimes) occurs according to a pattern predetermined by A, B, C...a crime analyst elevates that predictive element."

He said officers already use common patterns to predict criminal behavior, but a crime analyst would further those efforts.

Also on the public safety committee's list is the addition of an information technologist.

The 2011-12 biennial budget already has in place funding for an information technologist, but the committee and police department are requesting the position be filled.

Because the position is not dedicated to the police department's needs, the public safety committee feels the individual hired could be handed a priority list with the police department's needs at the top.

Next on the list of recommendations was the addition of a gang task force.

Vlieger said the crime analyst and information technology support needs to be in place to support a gang task force, but the city of Sunnyside can be an example to neighboring communities.

He said two additional police officers are needed to create the task force.

Vlieger noted there was a desire to have 31 officers in place in 2010, but council approved 29 positions. He said he believes the two additional officers are necessary to fight the criminal gangs.

Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck said a gang task force would help the police department, "creating a visible team spending days and nights, putting pressure on gangs.

"We don't see gang fights, but shootings now."

When asked about the difficulty of filling positions, Radder told the city council he predicts the climate is right for hiring additional officers. He said other departments are reducing staff numbers and those officers are the ones the Sunnyside Police Department would court.

The positions, said Radder, would be at costs of $65,000 for each annual salary, plus the cost of equipment and vehicles.

The public safety committee also suggested annexing into the city trouble properties that are near city limits, such as a property in the 800 block of West Edison Avenue where several gang drive-by shootings have occurred.

The committee suggested that council provide the police department authorization to work with the planning department to identify such properties and explore possible annexation.

Councilman Mike Farmer explained the public safety committee wishes to provide the police department jurisdiction over properties with gang-related problems that spill into the city.

He said code enforcement and the crime-free rental housing ordinance would apply to the properties if the city was to annex them.

When asked if the owner of a property could refuse to be annexed into the city, City Manager Mark Gervasi said the owner could. But, in the case of property in the 800 block of West Edison Avenue, there is an annexation already in process. That annexation is the former Monson feedlot property and properties east of the city-owned property.

He said there are enough property owners on board with the annexation that the property owners in the 800 block of West Edison can automatically be included in the annexation.

Additional automated license plate readers were also on the list of recommendations to council.

The devices, according to Schenck, could be used for running license plate data when responding to a call. The license plate readers can also record information that provides dates, times and locations of a particular vehicle when a patrol car comes across it.

Schenck said that data could be useful in the process of a criminal investigation, if the vehicle is suspected of having been used during the commission of the crime.

He did note the council's approval of a crime analyst and information technology support person would be needed to fully utilize the license plate readers in such a way.

The license plate readers, Schenck told council, are estimated at a cost of $19,000 each.

The final item discussed with council was the need for an attorney dedicated to answering legal questions regarding street gangs.

Currently, Menke, Jackson, Beyer, Ehlis & Harper LLP, the city's attorneys, supply an attorney for the purpose of providing legal advice to the police department. Vlieger said that cost may rise, depending on the requests made of the attorney.

A large audience was in attendance at the specially held meeting. Because of the number interested in the meeting, the council allowed public comment.

Past mayor and council member Ed Prilucik was the first to speak, applauding the council for considering the recommendations made by the public safety committee.

He said he is concerned the Yakima County Sheriff's Office is taking steps in the opposite direction with slow response times to crimes that occur near Sunnyside. And, he alluded to the lack of officers responding to the Lower Yakima Valley due to layoffs in the sheriff's office.

Chris Gardner told the council, "I want people to say, 'You're from the town that got rid of all the gangs'."

Also giving the council kudos was Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet. He told the Sunnyside Council he believes the communities in the Lower Valley are going to have to be proactive.

"You are doing the right thing," he said, stating he will support Sunnyside in leading the fight against criminal activity in any way he can.

Business owner Kenny Nelson suggested a citizen patrol could be formed as an additional tool to help the police force and he said he would both volunteer his time and office space for such a venture.

The pointed statement from citizens was that of John Nelson. He told council, "We spent quite a bit of money getting rid of the smell...now, we need to spend money getting rid of crime."

Five others spoke to the council, providing support for the recommendations.

Both Mayor Jim Restucci and Vlieger made comments, stating the council needs to offer its full support to the police officers, providing tools and resources for fighting crime.

Council plans to further discuss the recommendations next Monday, Feb. 7, at its monthly workshop. Solid monetary figures are also expected at the meeting, as is a presentation from a crime analyst.

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