This year, the Washington State Legislature passed several “police reform” laws targeting police tactics, oversight, and training. While it is always desirable for law enforcement officers to be trained effectively on how to, when to, and whether they should use force against or detain a citizen, it is the opinion of the Commissioners of Columbia County that these laws will not enhance the safety of the citizens. In our opinion, these laws will make the citizens less safe.
Local sheriffs and their deputies are the first line defense of our rights under the laws of the land, and natural laws as stated in the Constitution of the United States, and the Washington State Constitution. Citizens should be educated in their rights before the law. Sheriffs and their deputies are often the first and most visible agent of government power in the lives of all citizens. It is right that sheriffs are elected by the people. It is right that sheriffs know and adhere to The Constitution, both in what they can do, as well as what they are not allowed to do. As elected officials who set policy in local law enforcement, the sheriff’s main oversight is the voter. This is proper and good. This gives the public a say in how their county’s law enforcement will be conducted.
It is the desire of every freedom-loving, law-abiding citizen to have proper oversight of law enforcement. Good law enforcement responds based on the behavior of the subject in question. The force they use is often based on the actions of the citizen they are contacting. As behavior escalates, response escalates. As behavior deescalates, response deescalates. Good training is welcome, but arbitrarily handcuffing the officer, removing the ability to protect him or herself, the public, and the suspect, is a solution that will cause more problems than it will solve.
Are there bad apples in law enforcement? Almost assuredly. Just as there are bad judges, bad lawyers, bad bankers, bad teachers, and bad legislators. There will always be cases of excessive force, abusive officers, or officers overstepping constitutional authority somewhere. These are the exceptions, and they should be disciplined or punished accordingly. The vast majority of officers are conscientious, diligent, and show grace in a very difficult job.
As crime rises due to weakened law enforcement, the people hurt the most will be the law-abiding citizen. The people of Columbia County should not have to suffer because politicians and unelected bureaucrats desire to collect more power, replace effective policing with social work, and seek ways to defund law enforcement as a reaction to spectacular but statistically rare incidents of police overreach.
We respectfully ask all citizens to support local control of law enforcement, to reach out to law-makers in Olympia to express your opinions, and vote according to your convictions. It is our hope that what may become an ugly rise in crime does not touch our community.
Board of Columbia County Commissioners