Yakima residents voice concerns about public safety related to gangs, drugs and traffic – Yakima Herald-Republic

Yakima City Council member Matt Brown discusses traffic and safety at a community forum at the Harman Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Yakima, Wash.
Yakima Council Council member Matt Brown discusses traffic and safety at a community forum at the Harman Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Yakima, Wash. 
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Yakima City Council member Matt Brown discusses traffic and safety at a community forum at the Harman Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Yakima, Wash.
Yakima Council Council member Matt Brown discusses traffic and safety at a community forum at the Harman Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Yakima, Wash. 
Yakima’s location combined with the lack of adequate resources for law enforcement make it attractive to drug cartels, police said Thursday at a public forum for residents who also raised questions on a wide range of city issues, including crime, traffic safety and road repairs.
“What is so attractive about Yakima that these cartels, because we’re not talking gangs at this point, we’re talking cartels, why are they coming to Yakima?” one resident asked. “Why us?”
Police Lt. Ira Cavin said the cartel’s presence in Yakima has to do with the city’s central and rural location in Washington.
“Your main routes of transport for a lot of the drugs that are coming illegally into the Pacific Northwest, they start here, and then they go other places from there,” Cavin said.
He also said it’s easier to move drugs through rural areas because of a lack of law enforcement resources.
“You go into Seattle, it’s a lot more — it’s an urban area, there’s a lot more people, there’s cameras, there’s a lot more federal agents, law enforcement in that area,” Cavin said. “Coming to the east side of the state, where there’s a lot less of that, it’s a lot easier to move, say, a car full of drugs into Yakima.”
Yakima Police Capt. Jay Seely said more cartel members are making their way to Yakima. He also said use of fentanyl, a synthetic, highly addictive and extremely potent opioid, is a major problem in the community.
“It’s saturated this community,” Seely said. “We had 69 overdose deaths last year total in the city. We’ve had 64 fentanyl deaths in this city already this year.”
Earlier this month, federal investigators and Yakima police seized firearms and drugs in a series of raids targeting a drug cartel, including 27 high-powered rifles, two shotguns, nine handguns, methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Seely said the police department’s partnership with federal agencies means people tied to gang and drug crimes are getting federal sentences, which are more serious and often more significant amounts of time.
“It’s been tremendous because we’re using the leverage of the federal system to put these people in prison,” he said.
Yakima City Council member Matt Brown, who hosted the forum, said the event was a chance to get feedback from the community More than 20 residents attended.
Brown and members from the Public Works and police departments fielded a range of questions about outreach programs for people involved in gang activity, upcoming road projects or areas that need repairs, and the prevalence of drugs.
Residents also posed questions about traffic safety. One resident voiced concerns about people running red lights, and another voiced concerns about the volume of semitrailer traffic on Summitview Avenue.
Seely said red light violations are a focus for the city’s traffic unit, which is concentrating on warning and ticketing crash-causing violations.
City Engineer Bill Preston said the resurfacing of Summitview from 72nd Avenue to 40th Avenue, which is underway this fall, is funded by the National Highway Freight Program.
“The recognition is that these freight routes do experience damage to the roadways, and so there are programs available to help repave it and that is what is actually repaving it,” he said.
Traffic issues that result are another question, city officials said, because that would require looking at different routes to connect to the growers and warehouses. Brown said he has already started discussions about semitrailer traffic on roads.
“I’ve already started having conversations a little bit with our city manager about ‘what can we do?’” Brown said at the forum. “Because they can drive on the roads, but we can also say what are truck routes and what are not truck routes.”
Thursday’s community forum was hosted in Brown’s District 6.
Contact Kate Smith at katesmith@yakimaherald.com
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