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Lakewood police shootings prompt bill in Congress

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on March 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
March 25, 2010 1:18 pm

FROM LES BLUMENTHAL IN D.C.:

WASHINGTON – Legislation aimed at fixing problems with interstate transfers of convicted felons like the one who gunned down four Lakewood police officers was introduced in Congress on Thursday by four Washington state lawmakers.

Two bills, crafted in coordination with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and law enforcement and federal agencies, would require that the Justice Department review existing rules covering such transfers and that improvements be made in the sharing of prisoner information between federal, state and local police and the criminal justice system.

“We honor the memories of our fallen officers by learning tough lessons and making sure it will never happen again,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who introduced the bills in the Senate.

The bill introductions come as Washington has refused to accept the transfer of three more Arkansas parolees and decided to ignore a formal opinion from the Interstate Compact on Adult Supervision that its refusal was unlawful.

Below are more details in a press release from Rep. Jay Inslee:

Reps. Inslee, Smith, Reichert and Senator Murray Introduce Lakewood Officers Legislation

Washington, DC – Today, Reps. Jay Inslee (WA-01), Adam Smith (WA-09) and Dave Reichert (WA-08) co-introduced a pair of complementary bills in the House seeking to address the deficiencies in the interstate compact system that governs the release and supervision of convicted felons across state lines. Companion bills were introduced in the Senate by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). On November 29th, 2009, four Lakewood, Washington police officers; Sergeant Mark Renninger, Officer Ronald Owens, Officer Tina Griswold, and Officer Greg Richards were murdered by a convicted felon from Arkansas who had been living in Washington State following the commutation of his sentence. The legislation, crafted by the local lawmakers and working in coordination with Governor Christine Gregoire, law enforcement and federal agencies, purposes solutions that would improve information-sharing and best practices at all levels of law enforcement. Legislation would also require the U.S. Department of Justice to review existing rules governing interstate transfers of adult offenders, to best ensure public and officer safety.

“The lessons of this tragic event cannot be ignored,” said Rep. Jay Inslee. “The system, as it is, failed to safeguard those charged with protecting and serving us. By revisiting the rules and tools states and law enforcement use to communicate with each other, and by making some simple, common sense changes, we can prevent these mistakes from happening again.”

“As a former prosecutor, I understand how important it is for law enforcement agencies to share information across federal, state, and local jurisdictions,” said Rep. Adam Smith. “Last November, we saw the disastrous outcome of a break down in this communication. Based on lessons learned from this tragic shooting, the legislation introduced today seeks to address the shortcomings of current interstate policies and will protect and empower our law enforcement officials.”

“Our law enforcement officers put themselves at risk every day to keep our families and communities safe, and we need to do everything possible to protect those who protect us,” said Senator Patty Murray. “We honor the memories of our fallen officers by learning the tough lessons and making sure that it never happens again. We also need increased vigilance to ensure that other states are not allowed to dump their criminals into our communities, that’s why we’re calling for a rigorous review of the rules and improved communication at every level to prevent a tragedy like Lakewood from happening again.”

“The painful loss of too many law enforcement officers in our state demonstrates the critical need to enhance the protection our communities – both for our officers and citizens,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “I applaud Representative Inslee and other members of our Congressional delegation for introducing this legislation that will take a close look at the Interstate Compact to ensure needed changes are made to protect not only Washington state, but the rest of the nation.”

“I am pleased to see Representative Inslee and other members of our Congressional delegation support a review of the rules of the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision,” said Washington State Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. “I believe more criminal history information sharing prior to one state accepting an offender from another and clear authority to end supervision by the receiving state when the community is at risk are common sense public safety improvements for the citizens of Washington and for all states across the country.”

For the last few months, Members have been working with the experts who were tasked by Governor Gregoire to review the incidents leading up to Lakewood tragedy and make recommendations to change existing policies. Members worked with expert staff at Washington State Department of Corrections and Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs to determine that in order to prevent future incidents, federal legislation is needed to ensure that the Interstate Compact rules are rigorously reviewed and all states act in good faith to protect all communities that host interstate offenders.

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