SPOKANE, Wash. - More than 300 police from four states gathered at Spokane's Northern Quest Casino this week to attend a regional conference targeting street gangs.
Spokane's struggle with street gangs began in the early 1990's when they began dealing crack cocaine, but has since moved from street corners into neighborhoods and is beginning to expand into other criminal enterprises.
Police say 60 to 70 percent of all drugs that wind up in our area and distributed by gangs, and now they're moving into human trafficking.
"I sell drugs and I have to go find or make more," said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. "A human, I can recycle that time and time again, and it's the kids that are going to be real targets,"
Because of the money to be made, gang members protect their inventory and even their marketplace with guns and violence, occasionally catching innocent people in the crossfire. That's why Spokane Prosecutor Larry Haskell is pushing for tougher punishments for gang crimes.
"The fact of the matter is that, for gang members, long prison sentences are the only way to send a message for the type of activity that they do and also the motive they have for doing it in the first place," Haskell said.
The majority of Spokane's gang members are men 18-25 who joined up for protection, profits and respect. The sheriff says the third generation of potential Spokane gang members are in junior high now and have to be given good reasons to not follow that path.
"We as a community, we better not lose that opportunity to reach out and pull those kids out of that gang lifestyle, because if we do we have lost a major chance to disrupt gang activity in this community," Knezovich said.