Comment: Lawmakers seeking balance that protects everyone

Recent policing reforms are meant to ensure the needs of citizens and police. That work continues.

By John Lovick and June Robinson / For The Herald

Conversations about crime and public safety are everywhere; and it is critical that elected officials at all levels of government focus on improving safety and peace of mind. We hear these concerns at town hall meetings, in our neighborhoods, and in the media. People are rightfully concerned about the safety of their neighborhoods, and it is our job as your representatives to continue to work together to address these concerns.

Snohomish County, like the rest of our country, experienced a culture shift after nationwide protests and outcry calling for change in 2020. A bipartisan coalition of state legislators agreed that our policing and justice systems must work better to serve the people in our state, so we passed common sense reforms like bans of no-knock warrants and chokeholds, and increased funding for de-escalation training. These are essential first steps to rebuild trust between communities of color, victims of crime, and law enforcement. We’ve also adopted stronger gun laws, such as prohibiting sale of high capacity magazines, commonly used in mass shootings.

We all share the value that everyone deserves to not only be safe but feel safe in their communities. Parents deserve to send their kids to school without the threat of gun violence. Law enforcement officers deserve to feel safe and supported in their work.

To support our law enforcement officers, we raised the pay for State Patrol troopers and improved their retirement benefits. The legislature increased training slots at police academies which are full across Washington. Relief is on the horizon for our understaffed and overburdened law enforcement agencies. We are optimistic about and thankful for the new generation of officers who are stepping up to serve.

Our investments in public safety extend beyond benefits and training. We passed legislation to add two more judges to the Snohomish County Superior Court and speed up access to justice when the pandemic created unsustainable court backlogs. Also, the new 988 mental health crisis line launches this summer. The 988 line will free up capacity for law enforcement to spend time doing what they do best; responding to crimes, and will let mental health providers such as social workers address other calls from people in crisis.

When the state Supreme Court unexpectedly delivered the Blake decision over a year ago, we quickly passed a bill to address the court’s de facto decriminalization of drugs in our state. Under the law passed, individuals must be offered treatment twice before arrest for the possession of drugs. The intent of the legislation is to lead with compassion for the most vulnerable, so those in crisis receive the services they need to get back on track.

We heard clearly from law enforcement and community members that the solution is not currently working in Snohomish County. We will take this feedback to Olympia for the 2023 legislative session. This is our promise as your state Senators: to listen, learn, and be your voice in Olympia. Sometimes we must make tough calls to implement changes to our policing system to make us safer.

One more piece of unfinished business involves police pursuits. More than 2,000 people have lost their lives in a high-speed pursuit in the last decade, and over 90 percent of police pursuits started as a response to a nonviolent crime. Many local law enforcement departments, like our own Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office until 2020, restrict police pursuits for certain crimes because they are so dangerous. A charge for shoplifting or package theft is not worth the lives of officers or innocent bystanders.

Our work to fine tune police pursuit legislation and our response to Blake did not end in the 2022 legislative session. Keeping Washingtonians safe requires ongoing policy decisions and investments in public safety programs. This work will never be done, but we have delivered progress for Snohomish County communities. Striking the right balance to keep everyone in our community as safe as possible is critically important and is the policy objective that we remain committed to. We all appreciate the fact that our police officers keep us safe in our homes, on our streets, and protect our kids in their schools.

State Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, represents the 44th Legislative District, serving Snohomish, Maltby, Mill Creek and Marysville. State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, represents the 38th Legislative District, serving Everett, Marysville and Tulalip.

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