Part 2 : Gang Prevention
YAKIMA, Wash. - Police, city council and school leaders say the key to combating gangs in Yakima is keeping kids from joining in the first place.
Federal data shows two out five gang members are under the age of 18 and that number increases in rural areas like Yakima.
Many kids are exposed to some form of gang activity at school every day.
Jose Herrera said he attends a local after school program that helped him and his brother from straying down the wrong path.
"Cause I know for sure it's helped out my brother because he used to be out on the streets a lot and just not doing anything good," he said. "Now, he comes here more often and stays out of trouble."
Ingrid Valencia is a junior in high school who said she notices violence in her school but the student body doesn't support it.
"Violence I would say once in a while, it's not that common but whenever it does happen. It's usually frowned upon by a lot of the students," she said. "It's not something viewed as like 'Oh it happened it's so cool.' No, it's not really what you should be doing at school."
City leaders said after school hours are the most critical when kids are unsupervised until parents get off work.
The Extra Mile Student Center in Grandview is an after-school program run by Gene and Kathy Iwami. Both have a teaching background and started the center in 2011 so kids could come after school to do their homework and have a safe place to go.
"Giving them a place that they can go and not be getting into trouble is also one of our motivations," Kathy said.
The center is open to kids in grade seven up to seniors in high school. Gene said they see about 80 kids a day.
"The more we can do for them to help them to see that there is potential to do more, the better they're gonna be," Gene said. "Kids get in trouble when they feel like they're not going anyplace and there's not anything better for them."
Educational Service District 105 Superintendent Kevin Chase said prevention starts with educating the youth and everyone has a part, from police to community members.
"I think this is an age old problem that you can't give up on," he said. "You're gonna have to be persistent and you're not going to save everybody but if we save a couple, then it's all worthwhile."
While city leaders said that prevention is key, they also said rehabilitation efforts are important to save those youths who are on the border of losing themselves to gang life.