If you’ve been keeping up on news in the Puget Sound area you already know that 2012 has been a violent year. In January a park ranger, Margaret Anderson, was shot and killed at Mount Rainier National Park. In early February our region garnered unwanted national attention due to the domestic violence homicide of two small boys by the now infamous Josh Powell. Just last week we lost another police officer, State Patrol Trooper Tony Radulescu, at the hands of a meth-crazed criminal.
Violent crime remains a critical issue. The question is, what are we doing about it?
One hurdle became apparent only a few years ago when I attended a criminal procedures class at the police academy. It was a certification course for cops transferring to Washington State (I was gettig re-certified). Over the next two weeks the students, who represented almost every state in our union, listened with growing dismay as the instructor discussed the legal restraints on police work in Washington State. Sometimes the reaction was a stunned silence. Sometimes the students groaned in unison. Eventually, some decided living in the Evergreen State was not worth the hassle.
That remains the current reality, and it needs to change. In light of the violence over the last two months (not to mention the last couple years) our legislature has had ample opportunity to reshape the public safety model in favor of future victims. Several promising bills were written – almost all of these have failed.
For example, in 2011 Attorney General Rob McKenna sponsored a bill targeting criminal street gangs. It was a timely endeavor as the resurgence of gang violence in the last several years has brought many communities, both in the urban setting of the Seattle-Tacoma corridor and the rural areas of Eastern Washington, to their knees. Modeled after California’s successful anti-gang legislation, the bill was aimed at decreasing the presence of gang members on their chosen turf via civil injunction.
Despite the entreaties from citizens and police officials from all over Washington, the bill never made it out of the committee. Instead, a bill that was written to protect against “motorcycle profiling” was unanimously passed into law. The legislation was backed by outlaw groups such as the Bandidos, but this did not dampen the enthusiasm of Governor Gregoire. She signed the legislation before a crowd which included a member of an outlaw motorcycle group who had served time for killing a Portland police officer.
In 2010 a Tacoma teacher, Jennifer Paulson, was murdered outside her school by a man who had stalked her for years. Last year a bill aimed at preventing similar crimes was put forth in the legislature. It was largely supported by domestic violence groups and the Attorney General’s office, but this bill also died in committee. The spoilers were judges and their lobbyists who argued that the bill amounted to an invasion of privacy (Olympian 2/10). It would seem a stalker’s right to privacy exceeds that of his or her victim.
The legislature has also shown poor judgment on budgeting for the Department of Corrections. DOC has shrugged off a huge number of Community Corrections Officers recently, though these probation officers play a vital role as caretakers for recently released felons. The loss of these positions has created a gaping hole in the system. As a gang enforcement officer I have noted a sharp increase in violent activity committed by subjects who no longer fall under DOC supervision.
Too often it seems that the decision to table a controversial crime bill or cut public safety funding is a matter for either philosophical debate or spreadsheet accounting. Our judges and elected state officials need to understand that the repurcussions are brutally real. Protecting the public from violent crime does not require theoretical discussion. It requires insight on the real barriers; it requires experience with the system and the players, both good and bad; and it requires a true commitment to the principles of justice.
In contrast, our legislature has spent the last year bowing to the esoteric views of the ill-informed, placing the rights of criminals before innocent victims, and decimating the ranks of community guardians. It is time to recognize that this process and these decisions are partly to blame for such a violent beginning to 2012.
What we need in our communities, our cities and our State Capital is the collective courage to make better choices.