WALLA WALLA — Police Chief Scott Bieber is focused on gangs. According to Bieber, the Police Department, in coordination with area law enforcement agencies, will take a hardline stance against gangs.
“We’ll have no tolerance for anything related to gangs,” Bieber said. “If there is an individual crime perpetrated by a gang member, we’re going to focus our energies on the rest of the gang.”
That focus will include enforcing any infraction, including jaywalking, committed by a known member of the gang.
Bieber also stated area law enforcement officials are planning a “call in,” or meeting with gang leaders this spring to outline the new approach.
That’s the easy part, according to Bieber. He’s still working on the hard part.
Based on the work of David Kennedy, a nationally known gang-abatement consultant, who has developed an approach for curbing gang crime in major urban areas, the call in will outline a three-step approach.
The first is the enforcement part, which Bieber said will focus not only on gang crimes, but will help his department prioritize limited resources.
The second part is what Bieber called, “the moral voice.”
According to Bieber, Kennedy helped pioneer confronting gang members with the victims of gang crime and violence.
“You bring in people who have lost loved ones to gang violence,” Bieber said, adding he hopes to bring in people who have been gang members and tried to get out.
“Let’s tell you the other side of the story,” Bieber said.
The third prong of the new approach, and the most difficult according to Bieber, is coordinating resources and opportunities that will keep youths from joining gangs.
Bieber spoke at length on the topic during a Coffee With the Chief forum on Wednesday morning, stating there are two roadblocks to dealing with gang issues.
The first is how to present the array of options for at-risk youths so they can take advantage of existing opportunities.
“There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things,” Bieber said, pointing out groups like the Blue Mountain Action Council and Commitment to Community.
The problem, according to Bieber, is it can be difficult for families of at-risk youths to find or access those programs.
“It’s not centralized,” Bieber said. “We need to make access to these programs easier.”
Bieber envisions a “Clearinghouse of Hope,” that will be able to point individuals toward educational, recreational and employment opportunities.
The second issue Bieber believes needs to be addressed is immigration.
“There are two communities in (Walla Walla,)” Bieber said. “We don’t really work hard to connect those two.”
Bieber added he takes personal responsibility for his shortcomings in this area.
“I need to take responsibility,” Bieber said, adding he plans to work harder to get out to community events hosted by organizations like Commitment to Community.
“I don’t want just a certain amount of people to feel comfortable calling this department,” Bieber said. “I want everybody to feel comfortable.”