Ideology not making communities safer

 

February 8, 2023



There are lies, dang lies and statistics, but in the debate on fixing the failed "police reform" laws from 2021, it seems that no amount of research, pleading, facts or lived experience can overcome ideology. In my estimation, that is exactly the sticking point. Advocates of the public safety status quo that has facilitated significant upticks in police evasions, violent crimes and thefts, are unwilling to entertain any reasonable arguments for why their ideologically driven approach may need some revisions.

Let's be clear. When the Washington Legislature was considering a slate of bills related to law enforcement practices in 2021, there were numerous warning signs that the intended results would not bear fruit. I recall dire warnings by law enforcement agencies from around the state asking lawmakers to slow down and consider the full range of facts, rather than giving in to reactionary, national pressure for sweeping police reform.

At issue is the threshold by which police are allowed to pursue fleeing suspects. Prior to House Bill 1054, law enforcement officers were trusted to make judgement calls on when to give chase with a standard of reasonable suspicion. Now, their hands are in effect tied because the law requires a much higher standard of probable cause.

So, what's the effect? After Governor Inslee signed the police pursuit bill into law, vehicle thefts skyrocketed 99%. In King County, evasions from 2020 to 2022 increased 201%. The number of vehicles fleeing the Washington State Patrol more than doubled and 3,110 drivers fled and were not pursued due to this flawed law.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs note that, "Data available is both convincing and self-evident that [HB 1054] has led to more dangerous roadways, contributed to increased crime and allowed criminals to act with impunity." I agree and the people of our state know it.

While we did some good by providing more resources to law enforcement and model policies on training, the police pursuit legislation that we are now desperately trying to fix is facing concerning roadblocks when it really shouldn't. Despite the evidence, uproar and genuine concern by communities around the state, I am concerned this sorely needed, bipartisan fix may not happen.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee chair is obstinate, saying that the data doesn't support a fix and even if it did, the reaction is merely emotional. The only "solutions" on the table: Kick the can down the road with meaningless studies or ceding legislative oversight to unaccountable commissions. Important deadlines for passing legislation are looming and even these proposals aren't gaining traction.

Being principled is one thing but refusing to fix mistakes because of ideological stubbornness is another and it is no way to govern. It surely won't make our communities any safer. Presented with the facts and the concerns of the people whom we represent seeing their communities descend into the grips of lawlessness, we must act now.

 

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