SUNNYSIDE — A week after hearing of the increase in community gang activity from Police Chief Al Escalera, City Council approved $35,000 to fund a gang prevention and intervention agreement with the Sunnyside School District.

City Manager Martin Casey explained the funds were to be used as part of an ongoing effort to tackle gang issues in the city.

“This is part of a multi-tiered approach to reduce the impact of gang problems,” Casey said, adding the funds aid in preventing youth from joining gangs and intervention efforts.

“I know that $35,000 sounds like a lot of money,” said Councilman Dean Broersma, in support of the council action. “But what value can we put on the saving our youth.”

The need for a strong intervention program was future stressed during the council’s March 2 workshop meeting where Police Chief Escalera spoke of recent increase in gang recruitment, especially in the schools.

“Things are heating up in the city,” he remarked adding that the weekend of Feb. 28 saw a flurry of graffiti tagging not just in neighborhoods but on downtown businesses keeping officers busy tracking down suspects.

“We are seeing a sharp increase in the number activities typically associated with gangs,” he announced.

“Putting money into prevention is still smart money,” he stressed.

Sunnyside School District Director of Student Support and School Safety Doug Rogers told the council that the district has hired a gang specialist to identify youth involvement with/or at high risk of gang involvement.

“We also have hired a person to work with the youth who have already joined gangs to help find ways reach the individuals,” Rogers said.

Last year, the council had approved the formation of a street crimes unit to tackle the gang issue, Escalera pointed out, noting the three-man unit is still in the formative stages.

Julia Hart can be reached at 509-837-4500, ext. 123 or at jhart@sunnysidesun.com

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