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'Get tough' on gangs resolution put on hold

The Sunnyside City Council last night tabled a resolution in support of a gang elimination plan presented by Sunnyside Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck at the Monday, May 2, council workshop.

A lengthy discussion led to the final decision to reevaluate the resolution at the next council meeting, Monday, May 23.

The strategy, said Councilman Don Vlieger, is something he fully supports.

However, Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, Councilman Pablo Garcia and Mayor Jim Restucci all voiced concerns over passing a resolution in support of the plan.

"I have concerns over some of the wording," said Hancock, noting she doesn't feel the plan was properly vetted by council.

Another concern she had was in regard to plans of the police alerting employers that an employee is a gang member.

Garcia said the plan needed some refinement before he could add his vote of support.

"The resolution is political dressing," he said.

Vlieger disagreed with both council members, stating he believes the resolution should reflect the situation the city of Sunnyside now faces where gangs are involved.

"When we pass a resolution like this, we are telling the police, 'Go solve the problem'," he said.

"We need to give the police marching orders...a resolution of support in a battle," Vlieger continued.

That is where Restucci took issue. He said it is not council's role to tell the police department how to operate.

"I have a problem with appearing as if we are giving them marching orders," he said.

Hancock said she fully supports the police department, but feels language in the plan doesn't reflect council's thinking.

She did not like verbiage that referred to gang members as "the enemy."

Councilman Mike Farmer jumped into the discussion and said, "The police department was very emphatic."

He and Vlieger believe council should take the risk in standing up against gang members.

Hancock said, "I don't want to be soft on gangs, but the resolution should reflect the needs of the community."

She again brought up the issue of affecting gang members in their place of employment, stating, "If you destroy their occupation, they have no chance of rehabilitation."

Garcia said he had concerns over whether or not the civil rights of citizens would be in jeopardy with the tactics proposed in the gang elimination plan.

He feared family members would be inappropriately targeted by police. "I don't want to go after grandmothers," he said.

Vlieger interjected, "Phil (Schenck) said over and over again '...within the law...within the constitution'."

Garcia said he doesn't have an issue with targeting known criminals as individuals, but he does have a problem with possibly targeting family members and he would like further clarification regarding the plan.

He said there are measures the council has enacted through ordinances that have yet to be fully implemented. He would like to see the results of the crime-free rental housing program, the nuisance ordinance and additional police staffing.

Hancock agreed and said, "I don't want Sunnyside to be a police state."

She said she believes in changing lives, providing hope and not treating people as "disposable" or "hopeless."

Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis asked if the city's legal counsel had the opportunity to review the gang elimination plan and Attorney Scott Beyer said he had not.

Beyer added, "The one thing we can all agree on is that we want Sunnyside to be the safest community in the state."

Everyone agreed the council wants to support the police and to eliminate gangs.

Restucci said, "I don't want the entire police department to feel as if they are soldiers."

Further discussion ensued, and the council agreed to table the resolution until the police department could further polish the plan.

The Sunnyside City Council moved the item to the May 23 regular council meeting agenda.

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