Lower Valley kids committing fewer crimes over recent years

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Fewer Lower Valley kids are getting into trouble with police. Referrals in Sunnyside and Toppenish have dropped consistently over the last three years.

Work by police, schools and gang-free programs are getting a lot of the credit.

Sometimes a helping hand can go a long way. It's been a continuous effort made by community members because they believe.

"One by one, we can help people," said Cathy Kelley. "I think each and every child has a great amount of potential."

Cathy Kelley is the Sunnyside United Coordinator. She helps run the Gang-Free Initiative program there, which works closely with at-risk kids.

KIMA learned Sunnyside and Toppenish police are referring fewer kids to the Yakima County Juvenile Court. Referrals are sent to prosecutors to decide if a juvenile should be charged with a crime.

"History tells us that when we increase our efforts, whether it's law enforcement, whether it's prevention, intervention and those types of programs, we can make a difference," said Cathy.

History is proving true. Juvenile referrals in Sunnyside dropped by more than 30 percent from 2011 to 2012. It dropped again by more than 20 percent in the last two years.

In Toppenish, referrals dropped by more than 10 percent in 2011 and 2012 and dropped slightly in the last two years.

A big reason why there's been less crime is credited to law enforcement. Sunnyside police hired a crime analyst in 2011. This helped officers know which areas to patrol and which crimes to target.

Sunnyside schools also began offering counseling for at-risk youth. Gang-free programs have also helped kids graduate.

"I think a lot of things are happening that are good here," said Jim Slinker. "And people's attitudes; I think people are waking up to the idea that something needs to be done besides just putting people in jail."

Sunnyside City Council will vote on whether to give Sunnyside United money to maintain its outreach services on Monday. It's asking for $39,000.