Stronger Families. Stronger Communities. Stronger Washington

This opinion article appeared in The Chronicle on December 15, 2023: Peter Abbarno commentary: In the midst of crime wave, state leadership has failed

The Evergreen State has always been one of the safer places to live, work and raise a family in America, going back at least as far as 1960. 

Tragically, as of 2022, that’s no longer the case. 

The rate of violent crime in Washington is now on par with the national average, according to the FBI’s 2022 Crime in the Nation Statistics released in October. The homicide rate, at five per 100,000 residents, is at a 27-year high. The rate of aggravated assault is the highest it’s been in 24 years. Between 2020 and 2022, the rate of robbery spiked nearly 29%. 

Across the board, crime is heating up in Washington while it’s cooling nationally. 

Speaking with friends and neighbors, nearly everyone has noticed a stark difference. One out of every three of the constituents who responded to my September survey said they had been personally impacted by crime. Many no longer feel safe in the communities they grew up in; and more Washingtonians are taking extra precautions to protect themselves and their families. Many have lost faith in the state government’s ability to keep them safe — which should be our top priority. 

Until recently, we’ve benefited from balanced crime policies. During the past few years, however, the majority party has been chipping away at these laws — prioritizing criminals over their victims. “Hurt people hurt people” is a common mantra in Olympia. It does, of course, point to an obvious truth that criminals are often victims of abuse themselves. But if hurt people hurt people, by their own logic, shouldn’t we protect innocent people and end the cycle of criminality? 

In 2023, House Democrats passed a bill to reduce the penalties for drug, firearm and gang-related crimes committed near schools, bus stops, hospitals, and other protected areas in our communities. House Democrats also introduced a measure to require local and tribal governments to help criminals vote from jail; and even repealed victim impact fees, which was a penalty that convicted criminals would pay to fund services for victims. 

We did, however, manage to partially roll back a recently enacted law that prevented law enforcement from engaging in pursuit, but only in limited circumstances. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

When House Republicans objected to these measures and cited the uptick in crime, some argued that the trends were no different than what we’re seeing nationally. This recent crime report, however, dispels that myth. Between 2020 and 2022, the rate of violent crime increased by 28% in Washington while, at the same time, it decreased by 5.7% nationally. During that same period, the property crime rate in Washington increased by 23%.  

In the midst of this crime wave, state leadership has failed to adequately recruit and retain law enforcement professionals. For the twelfth year in a row, Washington has the fewest law enforcement officers per capita of any state in the nation, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.  

It’s time for Gov. Jay Inslee and his party to acknowledge these inconvenient facts. The numbers are in and it’s clear that their policies have failed. My constituents in Southwest Washington cannot wait any longer for us to bring back common sense to our criminal justice policies. We need to invest in our law enforcement officers and build a balanced system that holds criminals accountable, creates reasonable rehabilitation pathways that don’t endanger law-abiding citizens, and prioritizes the needs of victims.  

In the 2024 session, let’s bring back common sense, end this crime spree and restore the old bipartisan consensus of holding criminals accountable for their actions and protecting the lives and property of everyone in our state. 

This opinion article appeared in The Chronicle on December 15, 2023: Peter Abbarno commentary: In the midst of crime wave, state leadership has failed

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