The criminalization of just about everything and the federalization of just about all law enforcement took another big stride in Yakima, Washington this week.
Police Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr., a former Chicago Police Department watch commander who has had the Yakima job for three years, announced that his department’s ten-man “gang unit” will be merged into “a gang crime task force” that will be reinforced by agents supplied by the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Department of Homeland Security; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Yakima police already conduct joint drug investigations with the DEA and participate in a “Violent Crimes Task Force” with the United States Marshals Service. The Gang Crime Task Force will begin operation in May.
Safety AND Danger
Yakima has a population of about 93,000 and according to the police department: “The City of Yakima has had a decrease of 69.3% in Part I Crimes since 1988. The City reached it’s peak crime rate in 1988 with over 175 crimes per 1,000 and our lowest rate this past year (2014) with 53.8 per 1,000. What is particularly significant during this time is that our population has increased by over 91 percent while our raw count of index crimes have decreased by 41 percent.”
According to Yakima television station KNDO, “‘serious crime’ in Yakima has dropped by 21 percent over the past two years.”
City manager Tony O’Rourke told the Yakima Herald-Republic that despite the falling crime rates he thinks there is “still ‘a constant war’ when it comes to gang issues.”
Apparently, the declining crime rates have resulted in a shortfall in the number of local residents Yakima sends to federal prison each year. Hence the sudden infusion of federal money and personnel. O’Rourke said, “One benefit of the task force will be the ability to bring federal charges in some cases, which can mean longer prison sentences.”
Rizzi (photo above) told the Herald-Republic the federal aid will better enable authorities to use “federal racketeering laws to go after gangs.”
The law to which Rizzi refers is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act passed in 1970. The original intent of the law was to prevent organized criminal rackets from washing their criminal profits in legitimate businesses, as when Al Capone took the money he made selling whiskey and bought a dairy. The 1970 law would have defined Capone’s dairy as a “criminal enterprise” and would have allowed its seizure. The Supreme Court changed the meaning of “criminal enterprise” a decade later. Under current case law a criminal enterprise is “any union or group of individuals associated in fact” that has three or more members who have committed at least two crimes in the last decade. The crimes are often minor and RICO is a way to transform a state crime with a penalty of, say, two years in prison into a federal crime that allows the offender to be sentenced to twenty or more years in prison. People who belong to a group targeted for a RICO prosecution are often charged with conspiring to commit criminal acts.
Common targets of RICO prosecutions are motorcycle clubs. And influence makers in Yakima have been worried about motorcycle clubs for years. In 2009, local television station KIMA called Steve Cook, who recently appeared in a reality television program called Outlaw Country, “THE expert on motorcycle gangs in the U.S.”
Cook warned Yakima, “They are smart, they are cunning and they are here.”
“The biggest threat is just violence,” Cook told KIMA. “It could be traffic related. It could be someone giving them a look inside a restaurant that they deemed offensive and they’re gonna come up and deal with that person.”
Cook’s “expertise” aside, that doesn’t seem to actually be happening. The Aging Rebel was unable to find a single example of an unprovoked attack on moms and dads in restaurants in Yakima by outraged outlaw bikers in the last decade. But if it ever does, Yakima and the ATF and the DEA and the FBI and Homeland Security will be ready.