One of the most fundamental roles of local government is ensuring a safe environment where families and businesses can prosper. Unfortunately, this vital responsibility has all too often been abandoned by our state and municipalities, leaving us to fend for ourselves when we need help the most.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen surges in murders and drug overdoses to which our cities have slashed police forces, enabled addicts, and given more criminals than ever chances to repeat offend without consequence. The burden of these decisions has fallen hardest on the working class, who see far higher likelihood of crimes committed against them and far lower chances of seeing justice.
Homeless encampments in our cities and our parks continue to blight on our state. As discussed elsewhere, homelessness is a complicated issue which requires coordination on multiple fronts. What is clear, however, is that we must put the best interests of people first, and no homeless person is ever best served by living in public camps where drugs proliferate and violence abounds, especially violence toward women.
Let’s empower our police to do their jobs effectively and responsibly, not threaten to slash their funding. Let’s empower addicts to cure their disease, not enable it. Let’s empower communities to take back what is rightfully theirs.
Police officers put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe and secure. Their role cannot be replaced by social workers or other non-police personnel in the vast majority of cases– nor do social workers wish to perform a police officer’s job. Efforts to defund the police in favor of alternatives do little but place less experienced and less qualified people in harm’s way.
I believe every profession requires proper oversight, including the police. However, it is important to remember to incredible stress and split-second decision-making required of being a police officer. It’s easy to second guess someone from the sidelines when the tension is off. I do not support efforts to end qualified immunity for officers or to punish officers working within the bounds of official procedure.
Police morale has declined significantly due others in the criminal justice system, especially prosecutors, refusing to do their jobs as required by law. Our legislators in the 44th District have made this worse by banning police from pursuing criminals in many situations such as auto theft. If we want police to work proactively and build strong relationships the communities they serve, they must know that those above them are also behind them. We must enforce our laws.
The majority of police safety, de-escalation, mental health, and legal training for Washington police officers occurs through webinars and other online trainings. These trainings typically occur while officers are on duty and waiting to respond to calls. This causes great frustration for many police officers who are not provided the opportunity to focus on content which may improve their ability to perform their duties effectively. Staffing shortages and a lack of dedicated funding for training time leave officers needing to play double duty. We must correct this and provide for more interactive delivery formats if I ever want to make meaningful reforms to policing.
Snohomish County Jail is one of only a handful of large correctional settings nationwide which employs a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program for inmates addicted to heroin and other opioids. Studies suggest MAT programs for inmates significantly reduce subsequent drug use after release, above and beyond other treatment programs. Opioid overdoses in Snohomish County and statewide have soared during COVID, especially due to gang-trafficked synthetic fentanyl, and nowhere is this more prominent than among the homeless and criminal populations. It is imperative that we bring this addiction treatment program to jails and prisons across Washington.
In Seattle and other parts of Washington, desire to help addicts has produced judicial systems where claiming addiction effectively allows criminals to avoid punishment for property and even violent crimes. This has been taken advantage of not only by regular criminals, but also by gangs and cartels trafficking deadly Chinese-made synthetic fentanyl from Mexico who can avoid jail sentences by falsely claiming addiction. This is one reason by opioid overdoses have spiked during COVID– there’s simply more supply available.
We need to be able to separate legitimate addicts from gang members who simply ingest heroin right before a drug test to avoid justice. One way to do this might be to eliminate the incentive to pretend by ensuring that drug use is not an effective legal excuse for property and violent crime. If we build addiction recovery into the standard incarcerative process, such as by bringing MAT programs into jails and prisons, rather than keeping it separate, the incentive to lie is reduced.
Another option might be to expand the types of drug tests used before authorizing release to rehab and drug court over standard incarceration. Hair testing can be used to identify longer-term users of heroin, but hair tests may have higher false negative rates than ideal, meaning we may need a combination of tests to avoid losing legitimate addicts.
Let’s provide every homeless person living on our streets and in our parks with a simple choice: accept housing assistance and abide by its rules, go to in-patient rehabilitation and then to housing, take a bus out of state, or go to prison until you change your mind. No more coddling. No more enabling.
Taxpayers deserve safe streets and parks. Children deserve safe schools and playgrounds. No one should be allowed to steal these from you. Enough is enough.
Prosecutorial discretion is an important right of public attorneys working for cities or counties, but it has come to be abused by some who now decline to prosecute entire classes of crimes they personally disagree with punishing. Discretion was always meant to be allow for case-specific circumstances to be taken into consideration, not as a one-person line-item veto negating the law. Failure to prosecute property crimes in Seattle under Pete Holmes, for example, led police to give up on enforcing many laws entirely.
Addressing abuses of prosecutorial discretion is a complicated task. Some potential options include:
- Prohibiting blanket requirements on subordinate line prosecutors to not prosecute classes of crimes
- Establishing a citizen-initiated review board which automatically files for Writs of Mandamus against non-compliant prosecutors
- Lowering the required number signatures for public prosecutors to face a recall election to fifteen percent of votes cast and explicitly clarifying that failure to prosecute as directed by law constitutes “acts of… misfeasance while in office” as required for recall under the Washington State Constitution
Another example of discretion in our legal system which has been abused for political purposes to great harm is the question of how judges set bail. Too many repeat offenders are released due to relaxed bail or no bail requirements at all, only to commit further crimes again and again.
States and cities which have experimented with eliminating cash bail have seen surges in failures to show up in court and in recidivism. While scaling bail requirements to the defendant’s assets and to the severity of the crime makes sense, eliminating cash bail entirely eliminates the incentive for many defendants to show up in court.
Further, repeat offenders, those charged with violent crimes, those with restraining orders, and those who charged certain other crimes such as arson should be kept behind bars without bail, period. Another option to limit judicial abuse would be mandatory recall elections against judges who see too high of a recidivism rate or no-show rate among those they choose to release without bail.