Rep. Joe Schmick: Public safety is paramount
Various surveys conducted around the state over the last year continue to show that public safety is high on the list of concerns for the average Washingtonian. It doesn't matter if it's someone living in downtown Bellevue or someone residing in the 9th Legislative District. People are feeling less safe and less secure in their homes and communities.
According to annual statistics compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), the numbers support this feeling of unease. Violent crime increased by 12.3% in 2021, murder increased by 6%, and aggravated assaults increased by nearly 17%.
While certainly there are various factors at play in the overall scheme of how people feel about their own safety and security, I believe much of the blame can be directed at Olympia institutions.
In 2021, the state Supreme Court issued the Blake decision which ruled that Washington's felony drug possession law – as written – was unconstitutional. In essence, this radical interpretation of the law decriminalized drug use, including hard drugs like heroin, meth, and fentanyl.
In theory, the court's ruling opened the door for the Legislature to clarify the law and write it in such a way as to assuage the court's concerns and still protect the public.
In reality, the majority party in Olympia has refused a permanent, thoughtful “fix” to the Blake decision, instead opting for a temporary solution that has done nothing to curb the rampant drug use we see in our communities.
In addition, many of the police “reform” efforts from the past few years have been ineffective and destructive.
Auto thefts and people failing to stop for law enforcement have increased dramatically since a 2021 law that raised the legal bar for officers to pursue criminals. This new standard means that police can only chase after someone if there is “probable cause” to believe the person is either impaired, has committed a violent or sexual crime, or is an escaped felon. The previous standard was “reasonable suspicion.”
Fortunately for Washington's families and communities, it's not too late. Our communities don't have to resemble the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Detroit, Chicago, or Baltimore. We can still turn this around and enact common-sense solutions to make people feel safe again.
Here's what we need to do:
- Recriminalize hard drugs like heroin and fentanyl, and provide treatment services.
- Put more officers on the streets (Washington state currently ranks last in the nation for law enforcement officers per capita) by allowing for basic law enforcement training in eastern Washington.
- Address the rise in auto thefts.
- Allow police to pursue criminals by changing the standard for pursuits to “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed.
- Require local governments to close homeless encampments located near schools and parks.
We have legislative solutions for each of these issues. Some have bipartisan support but are being held up by one or two powerful legislators from the west side of the state.
While these solutions may seem noncontroversial and “easy” fixes, the fact remains, there are some in Olympia who favor the rights of criminals over victims.
In the last two years, we've seen legislation that would decrease the penalties for drive-by shootings, pay minimum wage to inmates in prison, reduce penalties for certain gang related activities, eliminate the firearm sentencing enhancement for violent crimes committed with a firearm, and money for high-speed internet for those recently released from prison.
I believe Washingtonians deserve to feel safe and secure in their homes. Yet, our communities have suffered through radical court rulings and misguided police reforms.
As Teddy Roosevelt said when he was the New York City Police Commissioner:
“I have not the slightest sympathy with any policy which tends to put the policeman at the mercy of a tough, or which deprives him of efficient weapons.”
Amen, Teddy. We can, and must, do better.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, has served the 9th Legislative District since 2007. He is the ranking Republican on the Health Care and Wellness Committee.)