CRIME TRACKER: Gang Unit success in Benton County

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Emergency calls down and gang arrests up. It's a product of the Benton County Gang Unit.

Sometimes you have to remember the past to truly appreciate the present. A year ago at this time, Finley's Kelly Estates was a haven for gang members looking to spark trouble and put families at risk.

"If there's gang members in here, I don't want them recruiting from my kids," says longtime resident June Lee.

Lee is the assistant manager of Kelly Estates.
After living in Kelly Estates for 20 years, she also considers herself a gatekeeper of safety.
You can imagine her dismay when gang members moved into her community, and started causing trouble.

"We had a couple of them break into a home," she tells KEPR. "You wonder whose home is next."

Enter the Benton County Gang Unit. Last August, several officers started patrolling local streets with one simple goal: stop gang activity before it gets out of hand. In the year since, deputies have taken more than 50 known gang members off our streets. They credit this with helping cut graffiti cases in half in Benton County. And back in Kelly Estates, there's been a 90% drop in emergency calls.

"Without them, I would have no control. I wouldn't be able to enforce anything without their backing."

In the case of Kelly Estates, gang unit officers have worked with Lee to drive gang members out of houses and eventually out of the Tri-Cities.

A year into their run, gang unit officers tell Action News their main challenge is keeping kids out of gangs and keeping the money in the budget to do their job.

"You got extra patrols cars, you got extra people working the streets to get rid of the gang problem, so there's a financial impact to the county," Sheriff Steve Keane tells KEPR.

In the past year, the gang unit has identified more than 120 gang members.

The upcoming year will now focus on keeping kids from ever joining a gang.

And for those already in the "life", deputies hope to help them escape and stay away from a life of crime.
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