Clearing out gangs in Benton County

Clearing out gangs in Benton County »Play Video
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Keeping gangs out of our neighborhoods: It's the fight of all police agencies in the Tri-Cities. For Benton County, it meant putting together a gang unit.

A woman who only wants to be known as "Janine" remembers the gang problem in Benton County when she was growing up.

She said, "The gangs were everywhere. Everybody was in them, or if they weren't, they were trying to get in them. It was like the cool thing."

Janine says she used to run with a bad crowd. Now she just wants to raise her daughter in a safer community.

While they're not completely gone, we are seeing less gang activity.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said, "I think it's an ongoing battle. It's one of those things that when you look at the costs of not doing anything, it's enormous."

For example, using your tax dollars to pay for hospital and court costs - not to mention lowering your property values. It's less expensive to attack the problem.

We hopped in the car to see the unit in action.

Five deputies just wrapped up a full two years on the streets. County leaders agreed to fund the unit back in 2011, at a startup cost of $750,000.

Since hitting the streets, deputies have rounded up 800 people who were wanted. More than half of those were convicted. Arrests made also led to over 800 criminal charges filed.

Several pounds of meth and pot were taken off the streets too. They're working to put a halt to drug trafficking.

Officers closely examine gang graffiti and tagging before it gets covered up. In most cases, catching the biggest offenders is as simple as identifying the gang signs.

Deputies know the work gets busy as the weather gets warmer.

"Janine" plans to do her part.

"Keeping our eyes open and telling people when they see activity that's not right," she said.

Letting gangs know they don't have a place here.