Sunnyside struggling to get rid of gangs

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- Cities across the Yakima Valley took on a new way of keeping kids away from gangs. It's called the "Gang Resistance Intervention Program."

The goal is to take kids who are most at-risk of gang involvement and turn their lives around. Almost a year later Action News found big challenges still exist for one Lower Valley community.

It was intended to be an effective, new way of getting kids away from gangs in Yakima County. The GRIP program came to Yakima, Toppenish and Sunnyside. Nearly a year later -- the state is looking at how well it's working.

The program in Sunnyside has had the most difficulty getting kids out of gangs. The same number of kids that went into the program with gang involvement, left the program with the same involvement.

Compare that with Yakima which saw a nine-percent drop in the number of kids involved with gangs. A 22-percent drop in Toppenish. So what happened in Sunnyside?

"I don't think that's a negative, I think it probably is more indicative of the fact that we probably had kids who were more involved in gangs when they were referred to the program," said court administrator Robyn Berndt.

Not only that but Sunnyside had a number of re-offenders. It included every kid who came from the juvenile justice system. Only 14-percent of those from the justice system re-offended in Yakima. Ten-percent in Toppenish.

"I dont think Sunnyside, Toppenish, or Yakima, any one of them, are any worse off than the other," Berndt said.

Sunnyside and Toppenish plan to renew the grant and continue the GRIP program. Yakima County has high hopes.

"I think we're going to see some really different numbers two years from now," she said.

Yakima plans to focus on fighting gangs with its Gang-Free Initiative program instead each city trying to find a way to stop the cycle of gangs with our local kids.

The GRIP grant is a short-term state grant. When Toppenish and Sunnyside renew it, it will hold for two years.