(The Center Square) – Addressing out-of-control crime in many communities and a shortage of police officers across much of the state is a top priority for Washington lawmakers this session.
But the approaches each party wants to take vary greatly.
During a media availability this week, Republican leaders from the House and Senate responded to questions about rebuilding law enforcement in the Evergreen State.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said his party support expanding regional criminal justice training centers.
“There’s two that have started up and there’s bipartisan support for doing more of those, and it’s a simple formula, right, if local law enforcement can hire folks and provide that training somewhere close, they can do it at lower cost, which means the folks they can recruit, the field just widens,” the Republican leader explained.
“There’s also a bill regarding a fund that I think we currently pay 75% of the cost [for training] cities and counties pay the rest and there are some proposals in the Senate for the state to pay for all of that,” he added.
Braun continued, “There are many cities and counties wanting some help for positions that are unfilled so there are some funding issues.”
He referenced a couple of bills from Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Airway Heights, including Senate Bill 6090 to create a law enforcement hiring grant program to help local jurisdictions recruit and retain officers.
The city of Kent is one of those local jurisdictions asking state lawmakers for some help.
They want the authority to increase a local sales tax to hire more police officers, amounting to a 3-cent hike for every $10.
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph wants to hire more police officers.
Ralph explained Kent still has fewer officers per capita than most cities in Washington. The rate is 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents.
Republicans have suggested much of the recruiting issues date back to the defunding movement in 2020 and major blows to the morale of officers across the state.
Democrats suggest their approach is better designed to address the officer shortages and difficulty recruiting.
Senate Majority Leader Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, during a meeting with reporters this week,said, “The approach that Democrats are taking with the regional training centers has been completely ground changing.”
“We used to have a backlog of individuals who wanted to go through the academy, now we multiple sites where there are more opportunities for law enforcement to get training, and it’s Democrats who have greatly expanded the number of opportunities for new law enforcement officers to get started.”
In last year’s budget, lawmakers put in money for retention and bonus pay, according to Dhingra.
“So there’s been a lot of work that democrats have done in ensuring we actually have officers to be trained and retained,” she said.
She went on to say, “I think Democrats have really taken the lead in ensuring we have law enforcement officers ready to serve the public.”
Asked about the chances of Initiative 2113, which would loosen restrictions on police pursuits, getting a public hearing, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins told The Center Square, “Most initiatives to the Legislature end up going to a vote of the people without ever getting a hearing, but we will take each one up individually and no decisions have been made.”
Five of the six citizen initiatives to the Legislature from Let’s Go Washington have been certified by the Secretary of State’s Office. Besides the measure to loosen restrictions on police pursuits, there are measures to repeal the capital gains tax, stop the hidden gas tax per the Climate Commitment Act, eliminate an income tax at any level in Washington, enshrining a bill of rights for parents of Washington public school students, and allowing opting out of the state’s long-term care insurance program, which is the only initiative not certified at this point.