SALINA (AP) — The police department of a central Kansas city of 50,000 is adding two police officers to respond to a growing gang problem that is linked to the recent shooting death of a teenager.
Salina Police Chief Jim Hill told the city commission Monday night that the two officers will be devoted to helping respond to violence arising from a feud between two gangs. The gangs are small but concern grew after the July 25 shooting death of 17-year-old Derek Rico in a city park.
“We have an issue, we have a problem and we are going to deal with it,” Hill told The Salina Journal.
The two-man gang unit would be part of the department’s new Special Enforcement Bureau, which includes a drug task force.
“There are people who are unknown to us who are gang members and involved in drugs. They do crossover,” said Lt. Jim Norton, current commander of the drug task force.
Hill told commissioners the city has experienced sporadic gang violence since at least the early 1990s, but he would not name the two gangs involved in the current Salina feud.
Of 16 “hard-core” gang members, Hill said one is dead, another is charged with murder, four are held by the Kansas Department of Corrections, one is in federal prison and three are currently on trial. He said the actual number of gang members in Salina is not known but most are “wannabes or gonnabes.”
“It is going to be very uncomfortable in this city to be a gang member,” Hill told commissioners. “We will target you, and if you want to tell us and act like you are in a gang, we are going to treat you like a gang member.”
Hill told commissioners that gang activity has been seen in Salina’s public middle and high schools. He said school resources officers and parents will be part of the city’s response.
“In the past, we have been good at suppression efforts,” Hill said. “I am not sure we have devoted enough resources to the prevention and intervention and those are things we think needs to be done.”
Hill said the department will be hand-delivering letters to parents of suspected gang members to try and prevent gang activity.
Even with a gang problem, Salina is among the safest cities in the state, with a violent crime rate of 3.9 incidents for every 1,000 people. Only Manhattan and cities in Johnson County have lower rates among Kansas’ 10 largest cities.
The two new officers will cost the city about $110,000 to $120,000 a year, City Manager Jason Gage said.