Serving Franklin County, WA

State needs more law officers

There was a time many years ago when our state was generally safe and did not have a serious crime problem. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.

Washington is among the nation’s leaders in several crimes, including auto theft and retail theft.

While the nation’s violent crime rate dropped slightly from 2021 to 2022, our state saw an increase, according to the FBI.

According to a report by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, there were 394 murders in Washington in 2022, an increase of 16.6% over 2021. This is the highest number of murders recorded since WASPC began collecting such data in 1980.

The report also showed aggravated assault offenses reported rose from 17,440 in 2021 to 19,804 in 2022, a 13.5% increase. Aggravated assault arrests went from 6,731 to 6,794.

Auto theft is another problem. According to the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force, nearly 41,000 vehicles were reported stolen statewide in 2023 — about 112 per day statewide.

Making matters worse, criminals are weaponizing these stolen vehicles by using them in subsequent crimes. A good example of this is retail theft, where criminals conduct “smash and grabs” using stolen vehicles.

Why does Washington have such a crime problem these days? One glaring reason is a state law passed by Democratic majorities in 2021 that have restricted law-enforcement pursuits. The result has been a shocking increase in violent crimes, auto theft and other various crimes.

State residents have given legislators another chance to get it right by sending Initiative 2113 to us. I-2113 would repeal the police-pursuit restrictions. If the Legislature does not take action on it, I-2113 will wind up on the statewide ballot in November.

A second key reason for the rise in crime is the low number of police officers

Washington ranked 51st in the nation in police officer staffing per capita in 2022. It was the state’s 13th straight year of being last in the nation!

When there are fewer police, criminals know they can get away with more crimes. Sadly, that is exactly what has happened over the years.

Adding to the problem is a shift in priorities in the Legislature. In recent years, the majority party in Olympia has failed Washingtonians when it comes to public safety. Too many of its members seem more concerned about criminals than victims.

But there have been positive signs in the effort to improve public safety.

For years, if someone wanted to become a law-enforcement officer in Washington, it meant going to the training academy in Burien. The challenge of relocating to Burien likely caused many people to give up their dream of becoming a police officer or sheriff’s deputy.

Fortunately, thanks in large part to its executive director, Monica Alexander, the state Criminal Justice Training Commission has recognized the dilemma and taken steps to fix it.

Over the past year, the commission has helped open two regional law-enforcement training academies — one in Pasco in May, the other in Vancouver in January.

In addition, a law-enforcement training facility near Airway Heights, operated jointly by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Fairchild Air Force Base, had its grand-opening ceremony last October.

Over the past two sessions, I have introduced two bills that aim to help increase the number of police officers.

Senate Bill 5361 would give cities and counties incentives to increase the number. This bipartisan proposal was passed last year by the Senate Law and Justice Committee but failed to get out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, where it sits now.

Senate Bill 6090 would create a law-enforcement hiring grant program. It originally was sent to the Law and Justice Committee but eventually was moved to the Ways and Means Committee, where it did not receive a hearing by the Feb. 5 cutoff.

It’s very unlikely either of these two proposals will pass the Legislature this year. But I will try again next year.

Long before I became a state legislator for the 6th District, I served 22 years as a Spokane police officer. When I began my law-enforcement career, I swore an oath to protect and serve the public.

Law-enforcement officers today have that same sense of commitment to serve and protect their communities.

The problem is, there aren’t as many officers in our communities as we need. Hopefully, the establishment of the two regional training centers in Pasco and Vancouver, along with the new facility near Spokane, will help swing the pendulum the other way so that we eventually see more officers graduating from these training academies and working and serving in our communities.

— Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane, represents the 6th Legislative District. To send him a message, email [email protected].


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