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County hires consultant for gang commission

Committee now being formed in Sunnyside

YAKIMA - In another step forward with its gang commission project, Yakima County this week agreed to hire a consultant to help with the program's efforts.

County commissioners on Tuesday inked a $15,000 contract with consultant Steve Magallon to provide technical assistance and program development for the gang commission, which includes Sunnyside.

The contract is for an 18-month period.

"This will provide services to Sunnyside, Toppenish and Yakima in developing their community resource plans for gang intervention and prevention," says Harold Delia, court consultant for Yakima County.

Magallon's work will include assisting a committee the city of Sunnyside is forming now to address the gang issue.

Councilman Jim Restucci is chairing the committee, which will consist of a cross-section of the Sunnyside community. He hopes to have all 15 members of the group appointed by early next month.

The effort in dealing with gangs in Sunnyside and around the county is being funded through a $60,000 federal grant the county received.

The work here will also include digging deeper into a gang assessment the county commissioned through the grant.

Restucci says it's just a starting point. He notes there is a need to dig deeper than the demographic numbers in the report, such as the finding that 32 percent of Sunnyside households with children under 18 years of age live below the federal poverty line. The county-wide average is 24 percent.

The report also notes that 67 percent of housing in Sunnyside is owner-occupied, which mirrors the rate of 66 percent for Yakima County.

"I think they did a good job, but an organization like Sunnyside's Promise should have had more input," Restucci says of the report. "We need to take those numbers and look at them from a local level instead of a county perspective."

That need is highlighted by the fact 63 percent of the county's community leaders responding to a survey for the report said the top thing that's needed to reduce the gang problem is more parental involvement.

By contrast, when community members were asked, 60 percent said the top thing to be done is more programs and recreation. Parental involvement was not listed among responses from community members.

Restucci says he plans to move forward after the committee is officially appointed by council. Those interested in being considered for the committee on gangs can call him at 643-4343.

"We want to get a closer look at what resources need to be made available," he says of addressing the gang issue locally. Restucci says Sunnyside's Promise will be included in the talks.

He says all are welcome to apply for the committee.

"I'm excited. I've met with community leaders and everyday Joe's and they're all interested in serving on the committee," Restucci says. "The name of everyone who is interested will be put forward for council to consider. If they want to be part of the solution, well more power to them."

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