The final weekend of July was a lot like many in Pierce County recently. Two people were shot in a Tacoma park, one fatally. A shootout at a South Tacoma gas station left one man dead. In another case, a 60-year-old man was shot and injured.
The most disturbing thing? A police spokesperson said the incidents seemed unrelated — as though violence was just breaking out everywhere.
The criminal acts plaguing our communities continue to skyrocket, and their random and violent nature has left the public in an unprecedented state of shock and fear.
Since 2015, Pierce and Thurston counties have seen a dramatic increase in property crimes. In Pierce County, they have risen nearly 70 percent. Violent crimes increased more than 60 percent.
This is not just a Tacoma problem. In April, when the number of homicides this year for all of Pierce County hit 36, Sgt. Darren Moss of the county sheriff’s department made a dire prediction: if nothing changed, unincorporated Pierce County alone could see more than 42 homicides by the end of the year.
Although crime is rising in other states as well, Washington appears to be unique. We are topping national lists of trouble spots because of a devil’s brew of bad policy decisions by the Legislature’s Democratic majority.
The spike in crime is, to a large degree, a result of the legislative majority’s “soft on crime” philosophy. Since Democrats recaptured full control of state government in 2018, thousands of felons have been released early from prison. The courts struck down felony penalties for possession of hard drugs like heroin, and the majority refused to restore them. Voter-approved anti-crime measures were weakened, critical tools were taken away from law enforcement, and rule changes now expose individual officers to prosecution for on-the-job conduct, even civil lawsuits from convicted felons.
These policy decisions, combined with the majority’s hostility towards law enforcement and reluctance to put or keep people behind bars, have sent the wrong message. While both petty and extremely violent criminals go on a spree, demoralized officers are leaving the state or the profession. Communities are having so much trouble recruiting officers that some are offering huge signing bonuses. Rising crime rates are the sad but predictable result.
The latest example? Roy Wayne Russell, Jr., convicted of murdering 14-year-old Chelsea Harrison in Vancouver in 2005, is having his life sentence overturned due to changes the majority party made in 2021 to Washington’s three-strike law. Senate Bill 5164 passed with zero Republican votes. When advocates called to end the death penalty in our state, they argued the worst criminals would spend life in prison without parole. Now legislative Democrats have enabled some three-strikes felons to petition for commutation.
The annual report on crime from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs highlights the loss of public safety. Last year’s report showed levels of violent crime not seen in over 25 years, with murders at an all-time high. This year’s report, covering 2021 statistics, shows a further 6-percent increase in violent crime – in a single year! Washington had 325 murders, the most since tracking began in 1980. The violence in Tacoma on the final weekend of July is a sign that we can expect further increases next year.
This year’s crime report also found the number of commissioned officers statewide in 2021 was 10,736, a net loss of 495 since 2020. That’s just 1.38 officers per thousand residents — the lowest per capita rate on record for Washington, and lowest in the nation.
We cannot wait to restore law and order. This year I was part of an effort to do that, through the Republican “Safe Washington” package of bills. Although the Democrat majority relented on a few minor points, our reform efforts were generally ignored, meaning many of the anti-police changes made in 2021 remain. Nor was anything done to truly address drug laws, prison closures, sentencing trends, or the need for judicial oversight.
We know what the public wants: tough laws against hard drugs, a more reasonable police-pursuit law, improvements to our felony-DUI laws, better trained and compensated police, enhanced penalties against career criminals, an end to human trafficking, and greater effort to get churches and other community groups involved.
Recently, Gov. Jay Inslee announced support for one of our Republican proposals — expanding access to the basic training new officers need before going on duty.
While this is a small step in the right direction, Inslee has been silent on most of the other actions needed, or worse yet, complicit by signing bad policies into law.
Where is the leadership from the governor and the majority party?
Until these issues are taken seriously, public safety in Washington will continue to decline. The people deserve better than the failed, extreme policies the Democratic majority has forced on our state.
Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, represents the 2nd Legislative District, which includes southern Pierce County and part of Thurston County, including Yelm and Lacey.