Tri-Cities: just as many gangs as Yakima

KEPR is always staying on top of the issues with gangs in our community. Many worry we're getting infiltrated with trouble from Yakima. Experts tell us -- we've got just as many gangbangers living here as Yakima does.

You may think life is peaceful here -- near the Columbia River.
It may not be as peaceful as you think.

"There's been some activity here in the Tri-Cities that's been alarming," said F.I.R.M.E. Founder Jesse Campos.

Jesse Campos works with F.I.R.M.E. -- a gang-resistance organization.
Police look to him as having a pulse on the gang situation. Jesse tells KEPR there are more than 1,500 documented gang members across Benton and Franklin Counties. Jesse warns activity is on the rise.

"Do I see a trend? Yes. Should I be alarmed? I believe so," stated Campos.

"David" is alarmed. He didn't even want to show his face. But he lives in a part of Kennewick where gang activity has been reported. The neighborhoods around Monopoly Park -- close to the fairgrounds.

"I've had people across the street fire guns. I've had people next to my house fire guns," said "David."

He's hoping for a change.

"Peace. Tranquility," explained "David."

Jesse worries he might not get it. He knows of 20 gangs in Benton County -- 20 in Franklin County.
Yakima has 40 gangs itself.

"So, we can say that we're right up there with Yakima County and Yakima City," added Campos.

It's also estimated about a third of inmates in the Benton County Jail are gang members. That's compared to more than half of the inmates in Yakima County.

We talked to police -- to see if the growing amount of graffiti is an indicator of trouble on the rise. Graffiti specifically blamed on gangs is down in Pasco and Kennewick -- up slightly in Richland. Officials say the decreased amount of gang taggings doesn't mean a decreased amount of gangs. They're alive and well -- and growing.

"Just because you don't see in front of you does not mean activity isn't happening behind closed doors," said Campos.

And of all gang-group types, the FBI says "neighborhood gangs" pose the highest threat for terrorism.
That's ranked higher than motorcycle club gangs, prison gangs and national level gangs.