Since the passage of several reforms regarding law enforcement in the 2021 legislative session, violent crime and property crime have soared across our state. Our communities, especially in the central Puget Sound area, feel less safe.
The most criminal-friendly of these “reforms” came via House Bill 1054, which made it nearly impossible for police to pursue suspected criminals. Word of this bill spread through the criminal community like wildfire, and we began seeing the negative repercussions almost immediately.
This is most clearly evidenced by the dramatic 99% increase in vehicle thefts between March 2021 to March 2022. The Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority has even said that “over the past 18 months, our state has been shaken by an auto theft crisis. Criminals know law enforcement cannot pursue them.”
The consequences, however, aren’t simply limited to property crimes. They have dramatic impacts in many different areas. Last month, for example, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said that Washington’s current police-pursuit law initially prevented deputies from pursuing a child sex offender who had a warrant for failing to register — because such a warrant is no longer grounds for pursuit under the law. Only after the suspect hit two police vehicles were officers permitted to give chase. That is unacceptable.
Rocked by the absolute influx of data, many Democratic legislators are beginning to see clearly and are joining Republican efforts to right the ship. During the 2022 legislative session both the House and Senate passed similar versions of a bipartisan bill to address this issue. I was happy to co-sponsor the Senate bill. Ultimately, this legislation did not pass on the last day of the session, as a few key Democrats blocked it.
This year, I am again among the bipartisan group seeking to correct the issue. Senate Bill 5352 is the vehicle to correct the law, but the bill appears to be on a direct collision course with Democratic state Sen. Manka Dhingra, who is the chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Committee chairs are gatekeepers and have the authority to determine which bills get hearings and which do not.
Senator Dhingra has said she will not allow her committee to consider this bill and that those who support it are simply being emotional. She has also suggested that it isn’t necessary because suspected criminals get caught sooner or later. Wow. I could not disagree more. Please bring that argument to someone who can’t get to work because their car was stolen or who is now on the hook to replace or repair necessary items they can’t afford due to a crime committed while we waited for “sooner or later” to arrive. More crimes, more victims.
Senator Dhingra also cites data indicating the restrictions have reduced pursuit-related fatalities by 73%. However, that assertion has now been publicly questioned and criticized by Democratic state Rep. Alicia Rule and Professor Matthew Hickman from the Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology and Forensics at Seattle University. The data “lacks sufficient methodological rigor to draw any valid and reliable conclusions about the effectiveness of HB 1054,” Hickman said.
If Senator Dhingra insists on being a roadblock, there are alternative routes. First, Senate Democrats could easily replace her as committee chair and pass the bill. Second, courageous and reasonable Senate Democrats could join with Republicans and invoke the rule that allows a majority of the 49 senators to bring a bill up for immediate debate and vote on the Senate floor at any time.
Restoring justice in this area would be a huge step toward reestablishing public safety across Washington.
One way or another, it needs to happen this year.
Senator Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, represents the 25th Legislative District.
— to news.google.com