Patty in the News

YAKIMA, Wash. — For years Yakima Valley officials have complained the odds were stacked in favor of major cities when it came to obtaining federal funding to fight gangs.

Now the final $1.1 trillion spending bill for 2015 before Congress could make it easier for Yakima County to get that much-sought federal aid.

The bill contains an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., which was drafted with help from Yakima County officials, directing the federal Department of Justice to review how it awards grants to prevent and suppress gang violence.

Specifically, it directs the department to give stronger consideration to smaller communities with gang crime rates above the national average.

“We’re making some good headway (at gang suppression) in the Valley and any additional resources would be welcome,” said Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, who worked on the amendment’s language with Harold Delia, the county’s court consultant.

Grant requests to the Justice Department on behalf of the county and the cities of Yakima, Sunnyside and Toppenish would often get high marks from federal officials, but the money would still end up going to major metropolitan areas, such as New York and San Francisco, Bouchey said.

The grants have been as much as $1.5 million, said Sean Coit, Murray’s press secretary.

The amendment resulted from discussions the county began with Murray’s staff about three years ago, Bouchey said.

Murray’s amendment directs the Justice Department to look at whether a community’s gang violence rate exceeds the national average. The rate is a per-capita ratio, which allows a more accurate comparison between rural, suburban and urban communities.

“For us, it puts us on a level playing field,” Delia said.

Additionally, the amendment states the department should consider whether a community has established a gang commission and performed a gang assessments, which are steps Delia said Yakima County has already done.

The requirements, Delia said, ensure that a community seeking grant money is serious about reducing gang crime and already has made some progress.

Bouchey said the county and the three cities would use the grants not just to combat gang crime, but also to continue programs to prevent youth from joining gangs.

Perry Tarrant, Yakima’s Gang-Free Initiative manager, said it is important to provide assistance to small communities dealing with gang issues.

He said in many cases, gang problems in smaller communities are the result of successful gang efforts in nearby larger cities that cause gang crime to migrate to the smaller town.

- Yakima Herald