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City moves to get tough on local gangs

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A large crowd awaits the decision of Sunnyside City Council members Monday. The council approved the creation of a crime analyst and two lateral police officer positions in an effort to fight gang activity.

After giving citizens a chance to weigh in on the decision to add three new employees at the Sunnyside Police Department, a crime analyst and two lateral officers, the Sunnyside City Council last night gave the nod.

The council chambers were full of community members interested in voicing support for the three positions.

The crime analyst position was the only one of the three on the agenda, but Councilman Don Vlieger made a motion to allow for the creation of the two lateral officer positions.

He said he feels it is important the police department has a head start in creating a gang task force. The way to create the gang task force, he said, is to provide the department with its full staffing needs.

Councilman Mike Farmer seconded Vlieger's motion.

There was some discussion on the matter, and Councilman Pablo Garcia was the first to speak.

"I thought we consented to hear more about this February 28," he said, stating he and the other council members were never against the idea of creating two more police officer positions. The council members wanted to provide the city manager and chief financial officer time to gather financial information.

Vlieger said he wanted to move forward with the decision so the biennial 2011-12 budget could be amended at the March 14, 2011 council meeting.

Garcia, addressing Vlieger, said, "I don't disagree, Don. The issue I have is that obviously we will move forward and I wanted the information (to be provided) February 28."

He said he didn't want to commit funds without full disclosure of financial information and the impact on the city budget in years to come.

Vlieger said he was confident the city can afford to hire the additional police staff because of information that leads him to believe the positions can be supported with liquor tax funds that have yet to be added to the approved budget. Those taxes, he said, amount to $100,000 in 2011 and $200,000 in 2012.

"The sooner we move on it the better off (we are)," Vlieger said.

Councilman Tom Gehlen said he felt the citizens weren't being provided "due diligence," and voted against the two officer positions, as did Garcia.

Little comment was made by council regarding the creation of the crime analyst position, but the audience had plenty to say.

Larry Hill advocated the position, as well as the two lateral officer positions. He said he feels the city was deprived of the officers when the council was told it needed to lay off members of the police force about four years ago.

"We were told we were short money...we were never able to recover those officers," he said, stating the money shortage was inaccurately stated and he felt the police department should have be returned to its staffing numbers long before now.

"People in this community want to feel safe," said Hill.

Brent Cleghorn spoke, stating, "I keep thinking it doesn't matter the cost and what the county is going to do...we need to take our city back."

Former Councilman Chad Werkhoven spoke, too. He said he feels the council can find the funding for the positions. He said gang prevention measures are already in place and suppression should be the next focus of the council.

"I understand being fiscally conservative," he said, adding the issue of hiring a crime analyst and two officers is both a fiscal matter and a moral one.

"You have the obligation to use our resources to solve this problem," said Werkhoven.

Nine others spoke to the Sunnyside City Council in support of the three positions, as well as in support of prevention measures like recreational activities.

Mark Baysinger, director of Sunnyside's Promise, was the last to speak, stating, "There isn't a piece of the puzzle that can be left out."

He said the prevention programs his organization provides for Sunnyside's youth work well with gang suppression efforts.

"Sunnyside's Promise is a piece of the puzzle," said Baysinger.

The decision to create a crime analyst position was made quickly with no dissent. The creation of two lateral officer positions was approved by a 4-2 vote.

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