Sheriffs urge vote for pro-law enforcement candidates before Washington primary

Sheriffs laid blame for much of the crime rise at the Legislature's feet and thus indirectly took aim at the state's Democratic majority.

Updated: July 28, 2022 - 12:25am

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Elected sheriffs for Spokane and Whatcom Counties issued a joint statement on the annual "Crime in Washington" report, urging Washingtonians to "Vote for candidates who are consistently on the side of law enforcement" in the primaries next week.

The report, Spokane County's Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Whatcom County's Sheriff Bill Elfo wrote, "confirmed what we all know: crime is skyrocketing. Violent crime, murder, rape, and theft are up considerably from last year. This is not a surprise to us."

In the Tuesday letter, the sheriffs laid the blame for much of the rise at the Legislature's feet and thus indirectly took aim at the state's Democratic majority.

"During the 2021 session, law enforcement repeatedly warned our legislators that anti-police legislation would tie the hands of law enforcement, hamper efforts to keep the public safe, and fail to hold those who commit crimes accountable," they wrote. "These warnings went unheeded. Over a dozen laws' reforming' law enforcement passed the Legislature and were signed into law by the governor."

The sheriffs admitted that this year's session fixed some problems with the previous year's reform bills. However, they held up the failure of Senate Bill 5919 as an egregious example of legislators putting politics above the public good.

SB 5919 "would have fixed some of the worst elements" of the previous legislation, they wrote, "which essentially prevented police from pursuing criminals. Majority legislative leadership ran out the clock on it - to the detriment of public safety."

With an election looming, the sheriffs warned, "Many incumbents are now newly promoting themselves as 'pro-law enforcement.'"

Knezovich and Elfo cautioned of the "conversions in their rhetoric" because the new talking points are being put forward "right before an election and right after they found out how unpopular their anti-police policies are."

Also included with their statement was a list of votes in the Legislature along with pro-law enforcement campaign materials of several candidates.

One of the candidates singled out was Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, who is seeking to move up from the Washington state House to the Senate in this election cycle in Whatcom County's 42nd District.

The sheriffs included a flier to support Shewmake's candidacy calling for "more – and better paid – officers"; "expanded services to reduce crime and restore lives"; and "cracking down on property crimes" as well as roll call votes that they charge created problems for Washington state officers.

These bills changed use of force rules, limited tactics and equipment that police can use and thereby accidentally banned beanbag rounds and made it very difficult for police to engage in high-speed pursuits of suspected criminals.

Reached for comment, Shewmake criticized the sheriffs for taking such a "partisan" stance.

"Public safety is not a partisan issue," she told The Center Square in an email. "Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community. When we make it partisan, we reduce a complicated problem into talking points when what we need are practical solutions such as courts ready to deliver swift, certain and fair consequences, police departments able to attract and train officers, and an economy that works for everyone.

She added that "Reducing criminality requires us to look at not just policing but the entire system of criminal justice, mental health, education and opportunities for all. When sheriffs take partisan stances it alienates communities and makes it more difficult to build trust. I believe in practical approaches to solve these problems and will continue to work to make sure communities are safe."

However, the sheriffs insist that current policies are what is driving them to speak up.

"This election year, we encourage folks to look at your legislator's actual record on policing issues," Knezovich and Elfo wrote. "Despite what they may say, anti-police laws are currently on the books and a majority of incumbents voted for them."