Commentary: Supporting Law Enforcement, Punishing Crime Necessary for Safe Communities

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“Centralia Man Accused of Attacking Grocery Store Employees with Knife”

“Suspects Sought in Centralia ATM Explosion”

“Man Killed in Chehalis Stabbing; 12-Year-Old Also Injured”

“‘Terrifying Experience’: Chehalis Homeowner Details Dec. 16 Burglary, Cautions Neighbors”

These are just a handful of recent headlines in The Chronicle highlighting an alarming increase in violent crimes happening not just in Lewis County, but in communities all over Washington. Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza reports a 75% increase in crimes of thefts and burglaries in Lewis County in just the last six months.

I’ve spoken with dozens of Southwest Washington police officers in recent months. They tell me that a bad mix of recent state and federal policies are contributing to this rise in crime.

Lax federal border security has triggered an unprecedented wave of dangerous drugs, much of which is shipped from China to Mexico and then transported through our southern border. The buying and selling of those drugs increase crime locally. In Olympia, new laws hamstringing law enforcement have emboldened criminals.

The Biden Administration has turned its back on our southern border, which has allowed drug traffickers to smuggle record amounts of deadly drugs like fentanyl up the West Coast’s major artery, Interstate 5, and into our communities. In Congress, I’m continuing to support legislation that would immediately resume the construction of physical barriers along the border that President Joe Biden halted, hire more border patrol agents, and deploy new and effective border security technology.

At the same time, Olympia has handcuffed our police. Despite law enforcement officials sounding the alarm on poorly designed police “reform” proposals in 2021, the governor signed two massive bills into law last year that hinder police response and embolden criminals.

For instance, one of the new state police “reform” laws, H.B. 1310, restricts an officer from detaining a person fleeing the scene of an armed robbery — even if the person matches the description of the suspect.

Sheriff Rob Snaza has repeatedly outlined the negative impacts of these laws on the ability of police to stop crime. For instance, at a community meeting last year, he said HB 1310 will pose a challenge to officers who are trying to question and detain alleged perpetrators: "I have no recourse to keep that person staying. It used to be 'no, I need you to stay while we investigate this, we need to be sure what's going on. We're just going to detain you until we figure it out.’ ‘Detained’ means you're not under arrest, you're just not free to go at this point. So now we've lost that."

And another law out of Olympia, HB 1054, restricts police from car chases, conducting routine traffic stops and impedes their use of non-lethal weapons.

I am sponsoring legislation that will provide an incentive to the governor and others in Olympia to change course away from their anti-law enforcement policies. This legislation will create new federal funding — administered by the Department of Justice — to states who reverse efforts to restrict law enforcement.

I’ve always supported full funding for law enforcement. This week, I introduced a bill in Congress that triples last year’s funding for COPS Grants — over $1 billion — which Lewis County can use to provide police services to protect our homes, businesses and schools.

And with Washington state ranking dead last — 51st out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia — in law enforcement personnel per capita in the United States, this underscores the dire need for more well-trained police officers. 

The rise in crime isn’t just a problem somewhere else. These shocking crimes in communities like Centralia and Chehalis better be a wakeup call to all of us including elected officials in Washington, D.C., and Olympia. 

I have a role to play in turning these bad policies around and so do you. Raise your voice and make people in elected office know that we want safe, vibrant and thriving communities to raise our families and go about our daily lives. Supporting law enforcement and punishing crime is necessary for safer communities.

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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is a Republican from Battle Ground who represents the 3rd Congressional District.