AG McKenna on right track targeting gangs

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But given the bleak financial picture, Attorney General Rob McKenna's plan might have to be adopted over time.

Attorney General Rob McKenna wants Washington to get tougher on gangs -- $10 million tougher.

And few in the Legislature are likely to oppose, in theory, McKenna's plan for gang prevention and intervention programs.

Unfortunately, gaining consensus from lawmakers to fully fund these programs is going to be extremely difficult as the state is now looking at a $4.8 billion gap between revenue (tax collections) and expenses.

McKenna's 48-page proposal goes beyond seeking millions of dollars. His plan, for example, calls for stiffer sentences for gang-related crimes. McKenna proposes to make gang recruiting efforts and gang intimidation a felony. In addition, he wants tougher punishment for teenagers caught illegally carrying a gun.

"We're not doing them any favors at all by just slapping them on the wrist," McKenna said. "What happens is they end up shooting and injuring or killing someone and then we fall on them like a ton of bricks."

We agree. In addition, we aren't doing society any favors by making it easy for teens to become involved in gangs.

Clearly there is much to like in McKenna's vast plan.

Although some of his actions could, if not implemented properly, clash with civil liberties. The proposal gives local governments power to initiate civil injunctions against gang members at properties where three or more gang offenses have been committed within a year. Our support for this type of action depends on the safeguards put in place to assure that rights are not being trampled.

We, however, have found McKenna to be thoughtful and pragmatic in his legal opinions. We would expect the same from his legislative proposals.

"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."

It seems the biggest hurdle this anti-gang legislation faces is financial. "Given the economic state of the budget, it's going to be difficult to allocate that kind of funding," Ross said.

Still, progress can -- and should -- be made. Lawmakers would be wise to move on areas that are not expensive or cost effective. Approve some of the outline during this legislative session and then take bolder steps over the next few years as the economy approves.

The key is to give law enforcement effective tools to deal with the growing gang problem throughout the state, and that includes the Walla Walla Valley. This is a problem that is taking too great a toll, particularly on young lives, to be ignored.

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