Toppenish Gang Crime Drops by Half

Toppenish Gang Crime Drops by Half
TOPPENISH -- KIMA has learned the city of Toppenish has cut gang crime in half. The numbers are astounding for this small community which has battled gangs for decades. The police chief said he has the community to thank.

Graffiti, fights, even shootings. It used to be an every day occurrence in Toppenish. Last year, Jose Gatica said his Las Palomas restaurant was tagged at least 3 times a month. But this year, he's seeing something different.

"Well, this last year it's been calm. There hasn't been that much graffiti or gang members around," said Gatica.

And Jose's right. KIMA pulled the latest numbers and found overall gang-related crime dropped more than half since this same time last year. There were also 24 fewer gang arrests.

Not only that, in 2008 there were 3 homicides in Toppenish. Last year there was one. And with just 2 months to go in 2010, not one murder.

Police Chief Adam Diaz credits the turn around to his community. He says neighbors finally had enough, and decided to take their city back. More people are calling in to report crimes as they happen. Even chasing suspects down until police get there. And they're also getting creative.

Jose said, "We're planning to do a little mural for the restaurant. To represent our store and see if graffiti will stop."

Jose hopes artwork will keep taggers away. Using a well-known local artist may mean gangbangers will respect the work, and not destroy it. Part of the new image Toppenish is earning.

Chief Diaz hoped the state attorney general would pass a statewide civil injunction law last year, but that didn't happen. Diaz said the law would give his officers more authority to enforce action when gang bangers break the rules. Although crime has dropped in his city, he's still pushing for that law.