Washington

Republican lawmakers pressure Sen. Dhingra on police enforcement reform bill | Washington

(The Center Square) — Several Republican lawmakers said Wednesday morning Sen. Manka Dhingra, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and deputy majority leader of the Washington state Senate, should at least consider legislation that would lower the bar for police officers in Washington state can pursue criminals with vehicles.

House bill 1363, introduced by Rep. Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, and Rep. Eric Robertson, R-Sumner, would restore the reasonable suspicion threshold to allow police to pursue drivers they believe have committed crimes. It would roll back House bill 1054 – adopted and put into effect in 2021 – which raised the threshold of probable causes.

companion Senate Act 5352sponsored by Senator John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, and with several co-signatories from both parties, was also introduced.

Dhingra previously said she has no plans to have the legislation heard before the committee, which would nullify the bill. On a Tuesday, she seemed to relax her stance a bit press conference where she indicated that there would be a committee hearing on Lovick’s bill.

Republican lawmakers on their Wednesday press conference criticized Dhingra’s stance on police prosecution reform legislation.

“I think it’s really concerning that one person in one legislative district can make a decision for the entire health and safety of Washington state,” said R-Republic Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber. “Our constituency is very concerned. This is a big issue and the people of Washington state want it addressed.”

She continued, “But allowing individuals to just leave a crime scene, drive away at any time and not be able to move on really shows our crime stats and what’s happening to our communities.”

Since HB 1054 came into force on July 25, 2021, car thefts and people not stopping for the police have skyrocketed.

The Republican leadership said the decision on the police prosecution reform legislation, which will be heard before the committee, does not rest with Dhingra alone.

“The Legislature is made up of 147 people,” noted Assemblyman JT Wilcox, R-Yelm. “A person should absolutely not be able to do it, and they can only do it if their caucus authorizes them to do so.”

The Republican leader of the House of Representatives further noted, “It’s in their hands.”

His colleague in the Senate agreed.

“She serves as her caucus pleases,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. “If their caucuses say we want to hear this, they are in a position to do so.”

According to the chair of the Senate Republican Committee, the issue is far from settled.

“But I think there’s a strong group of people in this caucus who are committed to tackling this problem in a thoughtful way, and we’re not done yet,” Braun noted.

Dhingra’s reluctance to move forward with the legislation stems from police prosecutions that have taken innocent lives, and she has recommended that the State Criminal Justice Training Center investigate the issue further.

The senator refers to a analysis performed by dr. Martina Morris, a retired professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, who showed that in the year and a half since HB 1054 was introduced, only three people have died in police pursuits in Washington — down from 11 in the same period before it went into effect of the law a reduction of 73%.

But a member of her own party says the data in this study is flawed.

It has since come to light that Rule emailed Dhingra and other lawmakers that she had issued an order independent review of Morris’ study by Prof. Matthew J. Hickman, Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology & Forensics at Seattle University.

Hickman’s results raise doubts about the validity of the study.

“If this analysis were peer-reviewed, it would be rejected outright as not meeting the thresholds for quantitative scholarly work,” he wrote. “The analysis should be disregarded in its entirety and not used to make legislative decisions.”

Hickman was particularly critical of the small sample size used by Morris.

“Just counting the death toll for a limited period of time before and after a law comes into force will not allow any meaningful conclusion to be drawn about the effectiveness of legal intervention,” he said. “Professor Morris essentially presented an extremely crude version of what is commonly referred to as discontinuous time series analysis. There are many pitfalls with this type of analysis, and the data requirements are far more stringent than what Professor Morris presented. The effectiveness of HB 1054 is a very complex question and an adequate research design must be able to consider and rule out alternative explanations for observed changes.”

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, brought up the controversy during the press conference.

“That’s the information she has [Dhingra] relies on getting a foothold on one of those bills,” she said.

Time is also a factor, Addy said.

“I think studying it and then doing something about it again is still putting our communities at risk,” she said.

According to Addy, there is “tremendous bipartisan support” to move forward with police prosecution reform legislation.

Wilcox hinted that the house could do just that.

“We should definitely follow this up in the House of Representatives and send a bill to the Senate,” he said. “If Sen. Dhingra isn’t ready, and you know, put some pressure on that body.”

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