Dear Lawmakers – Don’t Screw Up Chance to Fix Public Safety
January 14, 2022
This week marks the beginning of the 2022 Washington legislative session. As lawmakers consider, revise, debate, and vote on proposals over the next 60 days, it is imperative that public safety is among the top priorities.
Part of that is undoing the harm done during last year’s session in which legislators hastily enacted HB 1054, a “police reform” bill that prohibits officers from pursuing criminal suspects without “probable cause.” The problems with the law were apparent before it was signed by Governor Jay Inslee.
Senate Republican Leader John Braun, (R-20) described the results in a recent statement:
Anti-police policies passed by the majority last year completely missed the target. Instead of improving the equity in law enforcement activities, these policies have emboldened criminals to steal from and hurt law-abiding people and businesses. Police are treated like the enemy and hamstrung by the new laws. Offenders are given more rights than their victims.
Meanwhile, Washington’s homicide rate increased by 48 percent in 2020, the same year rioters attacked a Seattle police precinct station and occupied a section of the city dubbed “CHOP” or “CHAZ.”
However, public safety is not just about crime rates or statistics. It’s also a perception. Do people feel safe walking down the street or entering a certain area? Despite the saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, people exercise caution and discretion when it comes to where they travel, work, live, and play.
There’s also a flipside to the public safety coin. Criminals need to feel unsafe about conducting their activities for fear of a swift, effective police response. Laws that hamstring the ability of officers to pursue suspects encourages criminals by making it easier for them to get away with their behavior when it occurs beyond the eyes and ears of law enforcement.
And Washington state has a police staffing dilemma. According to a WalletHub study, the Evergreen state ranked third lowest in terms of officers per capita. Fewer officers not only mean greater opportunities for crimes to occur where responding officers can’t pursue thanks to the new state law, but it leaves people feeling less safe in places where officers might otherwise afford assurances.
Unfortunately, it appears like some state elected officials don’t get it. HB 1692 which was already introduced this session would lessen sentences for criminals who kill by drive-by shootings. Did a gang leader help with the bill language?
The legislature should ignore this proposal and consider SB 5521 and SB 5522, which address the problems with the 2021 police reform law. It should also look at ways that the state and local governments can hire more officers while ramping up prosecution to deter future crime.
Lawmakers cannot squander this opportunity to reverse the direction the state is headed when it comes to public safety, because a state where people and businesses don’t feel safe is not one they will remain in for long. They have about two months to come up with effective solutions. The last thing Washington needs is an ineffective legislature that focuses on fringe ideas that have already been implemented and proven disastrous and unpopular.