WALLA WALLA - It's an issue that compromise your safety. Gang bangers committing crimes in your neighborhood. KEPR learned the Walla Walla Sheriff's Department does not have any assigned officials to tackle hundreds of gang members. And as we found out -- they're hoping to build a gang unit.It's a downtown that's won awards for its beauty and charm. But what lurks behind these quaint wineries and coffee shops is a growing gang culture. Residents like Kay Workman agree -- it's grown too much. "It's unreal. I never thought that we would see the same thing happen in LA happen here. I feel very scared," said Walla Walla resident Kay Workman.When Kay and her husband moved to Walla Walla from Seattle four years ago -- they hoped to live in a safe, quiet community. But now Kay says she doesn't feel safe walking anywhere. "I feel very scared. I feel unsafe even going downtown by myself," added Workman.Kay was relieved to hear the Walla Walla Sheriff's Department is hoping to add a special enforcement unit with a narcotics and gang division. In the meanwhile, they're partnering with police.Walla Walla has about seven gangs -- including two large ones with L-A roots. Officials estimate up to 500 people in Walla Walla are part of a gang. "It's the sense of belonging to a group -- they think it's cool," Walla Walla Police Gang Detective Saul Reyna.Deputies say building a special enforcement team is needed -- but will take time and money to get it off the ground. Gang detectives say they've seen a rise in graffiti, assaults and gun-related incidents in the past year. And ever since the first gang-related homicide in the city in 2011 -- they don't expect the problems to decrease. "It would be great if in the county -- we could get together and combat this problem together. It makes sense," said Gang Detective Reyna.It's an effort to make this town -- safe."To keep the gang problem down and maybe even eliminate it," said Workman.It's not just an issue isolated to Walla Walla. Gang detectives say older members get lured to traffic drugs across the county. And members can travel right into the Tri-Cities. Officials emphasize -- it's about partnerships across agencies. Benton County Sheriff's Gang Team cleared more than 300 arrest warrants since it started last year.
KEPR CBS 19 serves the Tri-Cities area of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, Washington and surrounding communities including Benton City, Prosser, Grandview, Sunnyside, Walla Walla, College Place, and Connell, Washington and Umatilla, Hermiston, Pendleton and Patterson, Oregon.