GANGS - Outlying communities avoid violence but find other gang problems

Milton-Freewater and Dayton have avoided violence lately but find they have other gang problems.


Communities that are near a larger population hub, and supply workers to that hub, are sometimes referred to as bedroom communities.

In a way, at least two smaller towns near Walla Walla seem to serve that purpose for a specific segment of their populations: gang members and affiliates.

Gang members might use the small town to hole up if police or rival gang pressure makes Walla Walla uncomfortable.

Or they might commute to Walla Walla to participate in gang-related activities, as is the case in Milton-Freewater.

There hasn't been any gang violence in Milton-Freewater for about two years, but a lot of recent violence in Walla Walla involves people from Milton-Freewater, according to Milton-Freewater police Cpl. Robert Guerro.

Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Jeff Jenkins said Dayton has a gang problem, usually "spillover" from Walla Walla gangs.

"We're getting more here in Dayton," he said.

There have been attempts to start gangs in Dayton, and "it's just a matter of time," Jenkins said.

With a population of about 2,500, part of Dayton's attraction for gangs may be that it is along U.S. Highway 12, a conduit for drug traffic between Yakima, the Tri-Cities and the Lewiston Valley.

Law enforcement officers are aware when gang members congregate or when there are an unusual number of strangers in town.

"We do see a lot of new faces who pop up around here," Milton-Freewater police Sgt. Pat Garrett said.

In Dayton, there have been incidents in which people unknown to law enforcement have run into residents' homes to avoid detection by police, Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney Rea Culwell said.

Milton-Freewater and Columbia County officers agree drugs are a big part of the gang culture. Drugs are one of the things that attract local people to gangs, Jenkins said.

"A lot of people are into drugs and they're buying drugs in Walla Walla from gangs," he said.

Both communities are currently engaged in conversations about helping youths be less vulnerable to the lure of gangs. There also have been community meetings in each town about preventing juvenile crime (Milton-Freewater) and underage drinking (Dayton.)

"I think a lot of our gang problems are lack of parental supervision," Jenkins said.

Gang leaders are looking for youths lacking purpose and hanging out in groups, especially at night, Jenkins said. Parents should know where their children are and who they are with.

"Constantly question your kids about where they're going, who they're with," Jenkins said.

The community seems to be becoming more concerned about helping youths, Guerro said. A group is trying to resurrect a program that provided activities every Friday for youths, and city police will dedicate a school resource officer beginning in the fall,

One of the things Dayton community members have done, with the help of the Washington Health Foundation, was to install a skateboard park at the city park. The skate facility is one of 59 things for kids to do in Dayton, according to a list compiled for a recent forum on alcohol abuse. The list included swimming, theater, movies, 4-H and FFA.

Although gang activity is relatively quiet in Milton-Freewater and Dayton, that could change, law enforcement officers agreed.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at or 522-5289.


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