YAKIMA, WA - Chief Matthew Murray with the Yakima Police Department introduced the 'Don't Shoot' strategy to Yakima almost one year ago. This strategy is meant to help reduce violent crimes in cities - particularly gang violence.
Since it's introduction, law enforcement agencies and partnering community organizations have helped move this strategy forward.
"We're feeling very good about it, everybody is in agreement on what the strategy should be and we're getting it done," Chief Murray said.
The strategy is outlined in the book 'Don't Shoot, One Man, A Street Fellowship and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.' It includes everyone in the community working together to help reduce crime.
It starts with law enforcement identifying those most likely to shoot someone or be shot. This step has been accomplished. Several law enforcement agencies in the Yakima Valley have partnered together, along with the FBI gang unit, to share intelligence on gang members so they can identify those at high risk. The agencies meet once a month.
Then the people on their radar are given two options. They can either continue in their life of crime or visit with community partners and have the opportunity to turn it around. This step has also been accomplished, but community partners still need some help.
"I think the biggest need Yakima has is not to give money to the police, I'm not seeking more for us, but our community partners really need support," Chief Murray said.
The Executive Director Sarah Augustine said this program focuses on giving youth positive opportunities to keep them away from crime.
"What we say to young people is we need you," Augustine said. "We want your brilliance here in the community. We don't want you to die, we don't want you to be incarcerated. We need you here and we want to walk next to you and find out how to arrive together at a plan that's gonna work for you."
Chief Murray said for this plan to be successful, he really encourages community members to support organizations addressing some root causes of crime.
For instance, according to Murray, all but one gang members they've identified have domestic violence in their history. YPD is also working to address this problem in the community through the Handle with Care Program to try to prevent kids from turning to gangs for safety.
Aside from community support, Murray said constantly changing laws, stricter juvenile laws and the way the juvenile court system was designed have all been challenges to 'Don't Shoot' so they've had to adjust.
Earlier this year, all the groups involved outlined what they are capable of doing and what isn't possible.
One of the things mentioned in the strategy is having the prosecutor always file the highest charge they could for a shooter, but in Washington, we have sentencing guidelines, which don't allow for much discretion.
According to the Yakima County Prosecutor Joe Brusic, since the juvenile system is meant to be rehabilitative, their sentence ranges are less than adult ranges.
Both Brusic and Murray said this is tough for an area like Yakima where young people commit very violent crimes.
"It's determinate, so we know that and individual's score, prior criminal history score and the seriousness of the offense that we charge and convict someone of has a certain standard range," Brusic said.
Law enforcement will continue to progress the strategy in hopes that crime continues to decline in Yakima. Chief Murray said the next step is to stay focused on the plan and not get distracted.