YAKIMA – Speaking in a neighborhood often touched by gang crimes, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced a new proposal to combat gang violence.
“Yakima is ground zero in the fight against gangs, but these crimes plague every major city in the state,” McKenna said. “For years, law enforcement and community leaders have called for help. Today we’re asking the Legislature to answer the call and help communities reclaim their neighborhoods.”
McKenna’s proposed legislation was developed in consultation with representatives of law enforcement, city and county leaders, as well as community activists throughout the state. One Eastern Washington mom stepped forward Monday to lend her support. Dora Sanchez Trevino’s son, Auggie, was killed in 1999 by a teen with gang ties. Auggie was not involved in gangs.
“These senseless crimes devastate families and create permanent wounds,” Sanchez said. “Some of the state’s most vulnerable communities are hit hardest. Nothing will bring back the loved ones we’ve lost, but proposals like these will hopefully save lives.”
The proposed legislation directs the state to create a competitive grant process to distribute funds for gang prevention and intervention programs.
“We need to support programs that help kids avoid joining a gang and provide a way out of the gang lifestyle,” said Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. “And we need to be much tougher on hardened street gang members who are terrorizing our communities.”
The anti-gang bill offers a mix of civil and criminal provisions aimed at gang activity, including:
- Permitting county and city governments to declare “gang houses” a nuisance. Neighborhoods have long complained of properties that are home base for criminal street gangs. Through a court process, owners of such houses would have a chance to bring an end to the gang activity there – or forfeit the property.
- Allowing neighborhood anti-gang protection orders that prohibit proven street gang members from engaging in gang-related activities. Violations are punishable as a gross misdemeanor.
- Permitting the court to double the available penalty when the gang crime occurs on or near schools or school-related properties (on buses, school bus stops, etc.).
- Because criminal street gang members are at a high risk of reoffending, impose a minimum of one year of community supervision for all gang-related felonies.
- Expand the scope of criminal gang intimidation laws. According to current law, it’s a crime to threaten someone with bodily injury for refusing to join a gang or trying to withdraw from gang, but only if the perpetrator or the victim are public school students. McKenna’s proposal would create a new crime of criminal gang intimidation not limited by public school status.
County prosecutors worry that gun crimes committed by juveniles aren’t taken seriously enough – that minors given a slap on the wrist for possessing a firearm end up committing murders later on. McKenna’s bill excludes juveniles involved in gang-related firearms offenses from being eligible for deferred dispositions – cases in which judges avoid finding an offender guilty of a crime. The bill also mandates that when teens are involved in a violent, gang-related crime at age 16 or 17, they’re automatically charged as adults.
The bill also deals with the spray-painted vandalism. “Graffiti sends a chilling message that law-breakers run neighborhoods,” said Yakima Mayor Micah Cawley. “This legislation forces taggers to help clean up their mess.”
The bill increases the penalty for tagging. And whenever possible, offenders would be required to complete 100 hours of community service work in a graffiti abatement program.
McKenna first proposed anti-gang legislation in 2007. As passed by the Legislature, the bill directed the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) to establish a workgroup to evaluate the problem of gang-related crime in Washington and offer solutions. The bill passed but some of its provisions, including longer sentences for gang members, were stripped out by legislators. Many of the work group’s original recommendations are included in McKenna’s new proposed legislation. The Legislature will consider it when it convenes on Jan. 10, 2011.
Janelle Guthrie, AGO Communications Director, (360) 586-0725