This summer, Lakewood Mayor Jason Whalen and City Manager John Caulfield convened a meeting of Pierce County mayors and city administrators to address the pressing issue of public safety in the region.
At the meeting it was agreed the alarming increases in crime experienced across the state has a negative impact in all our communities. It has also created a lack of trust in local law enforcement’s ability to protect residents and businesses. As a result of the summer meeting, the group of mayors and city administrators met again Nov. 1, 2023 to discuss how respective jurisdictions can come together to affect change at the state level.
State and local governments have a shared responsibility the keep communities safe. Part of the state’s responsibility is to provide adequate resources and tools to local jurisdictions that are charged with providing essential public safety services.
The state Legislature made some strides to enhance public safety during the 2023 Legislative session. But a closer examination of crime data reveals more work is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.
The problems now experienced with open drug use, increased stolen vehicles, increased property crime, increased eluding from police, and an overall disregard for public safety are not unique to Pierce County cities and towns. It is happening everywhere in Washington.
At the end of October, 16 Pierce County mayors sent a letter to Pierce County’s legislative delegation. The letter collectively advocates for stronger public safety measures at the state level with a focus on five key policy areas.
- Provide tools to address auto theft and property crime, including increased state funding to support regional enforcement and prosecution efforts.
- Provide ongoing, stable funding for co-responder programs that pair a behavioral health professional with law enforcement, and therapeutic courts to be able to hire and retain staff.
- Make refinements to the state pursuit policy to allow for the pursuit of stolen vehicles, given the number of criminals who use stolen vehicles to facilitate other crimes; and allow local jurisdictions to individually continue with their current policy against all pursuits if they consider that to be the best choice for their community.
- Amend the law to allow for a parent or guardian to provide consent of a juvenile to be interviewed by law enforcement to include consent to search property.
- Provide funding for additional capacity for the Criminal Justice Training Center to provide basic law enforcement academy training, including funding for a new training academy needed to provide the necessary training, remove the 25% cost share paid by local cities and towns and eliminate the “by name” requirement necessary to reserve a seat in the basic law enforcement academy.
The police reform bills passed by the State Legislature in 2021 were well intentioned. At the same time, we must recognize and address some of the unintended consequences that now have a negative impact in our communities.
For example, all cities and towns have experienced a significant increase in the number of individuals/drivers eluding law enforcement. This spike is evident in statistics collected since the law took effect in 2021. We know the increase is because people are aware law enforcement can’t pursue them. Data also shows vehicle thefts have an impact on other crimes like property crimes, robberies, illegal gun possession, drugs, assaults, etc., which are surging throughout our region and state.
Juvenile crime has also increased substantially over the last year. Recent changes in state law no longer allow police officers to conduct an investigation involving a juvenile associated with a crime unless they have a lawyer. The result is law enforcement can no longer intervene to assist juveniles, some as young as 11 and 12 years old. The unintended consequences is these juveniles now enter the criminal justice system. In the past an early intervention by law enforcement would have prevented this.
In addition to supporting and leading this regional effort, the Lakewood City Council is expected to adopt the following key state legislative priorities for 2024:
- Provide tools to address auto theft and property crime, including increased state funding to grant programs to support regional enforcement and prosecution efforts.
- Make refinements to the restrictions to allow for the pursuit of stolen vehicles given the number of criminals using stolen vehicles to commit other crimes.
- Commit ongoing state funding for therapeutic courts to satisfy the new state drug possession law.
- Supply stable state funding for co-responder programs, such as the City’s Behavioral Health Contact Team.
- Amend state law to allow for a parent or guardian to provide consent for a juvenile to be interviewed by law enforcement to include consent to search property to resolve unsolved crimes and prevent future incidents.
The City Council is scheduled to meet with the City’s state legislative delegation from the 28th and 29th legislative districts Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. At this meeting the City Council will communicate these as the City’s key legislative priorities for the upcoming session.
As with any new legislation, the unified message to the state Legislature is that it is important to periodically review and ensure that the new laws are working as planned. Lakewood and other Pierce County leaders hope the state Legislature is open to this.