A look inside Yakima's gang unit: 'It's tough whenever you have one unit'

YAKIMA, Wash. -- KIMA spent 3 hours with Yakima police officers assigned to the gang unit riding around some of the city's worst neighborhoods at night.

We learned there's much more to the unit's job than meets the eye: these officers are gang specialists.

"They're to know everything about them," said Yakima Gang Sergeant David Cortez. "They need to know where these guys hang out at, who they hang out with, who they're dating, what kinds of cars they're driving."

Knowing that information brought officers to a home on North 7th street, which was the spot of a shooting two weeks ago.

The gang unit spotted a car officers recognized from that shooting.

"When I walked around, takes off running through the back, jumps the fence," said Yakima gang unit officer Chris Taylor.

It's a 24-hour job that's been cut short over the years. There are days when the gang unit is not on the streets at all.

KIMA asked, "You're coming off 5 days no gang unit, what does that mean for the city of Yakima? Is that tough?"

"You know, it is," said Cortez. "We're literally having to play catch up."

However, an expansion of the gang unit will increase patrols to seven days a week.

"It would give us that opportunity to never miss a beat. It'd give us that opportunity to get ahead and build those relationships," Cortez said.

Sergeant Cortez says building that rapport with the community is critical to finding out what's happening in the streets. Many people here simply don't trust law enforcement.

"You both have a common goal," said Cortez. "That is to go ahead and keep their neighborhood safe. That is to keep their family safe."

Still, fighting Yakima's gang problem isn't simple.

KIMA asked, "What is the gang problem here? Is it as bad as the general public thinks it is?"

"You know, to be quite honest with you, I don't believe it is as bad as some cities are," said Cortez. "Is it something that we need to address? Absolutely. It's not something at all that we need to be ignoring."

Sergeant Cortez is a 20-year veteran with YPD. He took over the gang unit after Erik Hildebrand resigned in turmoil.