New city partnership with YPAL tackles gang prevention, intervention amid crime spike

New city partnership with YPAL tackles gang prevention, intervention amid crime spike

YAKIMA, Wash. -- With several violent crimes in the last few weeks, city officials are focusing on gang prevention and intervention by bringing new opportunities to local youth after dissolving the city's Gang-Free Initiative (GFI) program that started in 2013.

This year the city is working exclusively with the Yakima Police Activities League (YPAL) instead of several service providers.

“A lot of these kids are coming from broken homes, broken families, and don't have a parent structure,” said YPAL Executive Director Joe Willis.

This sometimes leads to criminal activity and gang involvement. But now the city has contracted with YPAL to help about 225 kids ages 5 to 18.

Boxing and wrestling are still some of the popular activities they have available after school.

“We had 22 kids medal two weeks ago at state - four of them are state champions,” said Willis.

Inspiring youth and keeping them engaged so that they don't turn to the wrong crowd.

Adding to cooking and life skills classes, there are now educational opportunities with the Yakima School District (YSD) and Central Washington University (CWU). GED classes are now available three times a week from a bilingual CWU instructor. YSD will also bring in 30 computers next month for students to access various district programs.

“Ultimately we want to keep kids in school - it's our main focus - and out of gangs and be really productive in our community,” said Willis.

A community that has seen a recent spike in violence. There have been two shootings this year near a convenience store on 8th Street and 7 homicides to date.

Yakima Police Department (YPD) Sergeant Rafael Sanchez said detectives with the Gang Unit have seen a rise in graffiti tagging - usually the first sign of trouble.

“New graffiti that has come up, it's going to tell me if there's any problem between gangs and who's claiming which territory,” said Sgt. Sanchez.

Authorities estimate 700 active gang members in Yakima County who belong to nearly 40 different gangs. About half of those are within city limits.

“It's a small segment of the population but it causes a lot of heartache in the community,” said Sgt. Sanchez. “The city and the community is doing a good job of being able to paint over a lot of that graffiti.”

Something authorities encourage because graffiti messages can lead to violent crime. Meanwhile, YPAL officials aim to cut gang ties before they start.

The city is funding $110,000 toward YPAL projects in a one-year contract where progress will be monitored. YSD is currently drafting a grant for a teacher in YPAL’s after school program.

For more information on YPAL's activities call (509) 575-6180.

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