Public safety needs more than a step
Last updated 3/29/2023 at 10:10am
Law enforcement in our region continue to serve the people with professionalism, dedication and compassion. The brave men and women behind the badge are an integral part of our communities and are doing everything they can to keep our communities safe despite the unfortunate restrictions placed on them and the shortage of needed resources and staffing.
We are fortunate that on our side of the mountains that the types of crime and spikes in violent offenses haven't quite reached the extreme levels seen in western Washington.
However, the close-knit communities in eastern Washington are still seeing the effects of recent laws that are constraining our police from pursuing fleeing suspects. This, coupled with other efforts by some in the Legislature to reduce criminal penalties and restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens, is a social experiment headed for disaster.
With mounting pressure from the public expecting that our roads and neighborhoods are safe, the state Senate attempted to fix the flawed police pursuit legislation and what's called the Blake decision, which essentially legalized hard drugs. I voted against both proposals because I felt that they did not go far enough to empower law enforcement to pursue suspected criminals or force those struggling with drug addiction who are also committing crimes to face consequences or get treatment. These two issues have unequivocally contributed to a sense of lawlessness on our streets, and the data shows it.
A report by a statewide police association indicated that in 2021, when this police reform law, along with others, went into effect, violent crime surged. This is especially concerning given that during the same time frame, we lost more than 4% of our police around the state when Washington was already ranked at the bottom for law enforcement per capita.
The Washington State Patrol has noted that since 2022, over 3,100 vehicles fled but were not pursued. These were lawful stops that drivers decided to ignore because they knew the police could not give chase. That is an astonishing, unacceptable figure.
Proponents of keeping restrictions on law enforcement have continued to point to a seriously unscientific and now debunked "study." The mantra has been that this restriction saves lives of bystanders by reducing police pursuits. There is no mention or data provided for how much more dangerous our communities have become now that criminal elements know there won't be any consequences.
The same lawmakers are also arguing that there's no need to fix police pursuits because there are technologies available and being used in their communities to track fleeing suspects. They fail to realize that those same solutions might work in some of the most wealthy and urban areas of our state but are simply too costly and impractical in our rural communities with limited resources.
Proposals that have been approved this year in the state Senate at the eleventh hour may do some good but aren't good enough for victims of crime who deserve an actual solution to this public safety crisis. We don't need a study or to set up another government-funded commission to tell us what we already know: the police-pursuit laws and lax drug enforcement are not working. I support efforts to minimize risks associated with police chases and helping people struggling with addiction, but without significant amendments to the bills, which are now being considered by the House, state law will remain out of balance, making us all less safe.
- Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, represents the 13th Legislative District and serves as Chair of the Senate Republican Caucus.