Senate panel passes Holy bill to help communities hire more officers

A bipartisan bill sponsored by 6th District Sen. Jeff Holy that aims to reestablish public safety across Washington by halting an exodus of law-enforcement officers has been passed by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Senate Bill 5361 would provide cities and counties with more funding to hire more officers.

“Washington now has fewer law-enforcement officers per capita than any state. This decrease in officers, combined with the sharp increase in crime, is making communities less safe,” said Holy, R-Cheney. “Restoring public safety is one of the main priorities for our Senate Republican Caucus this session. This bill would help cities and counties hire more officers, which can only help reduce crime.”

During the committee’s public hearing on SB 5361 on Tuesday, several officials with local-government agencies or organizations and law-enforcement agencies testified strongly in favor of the proposal, including the Washington State Association of Counties, Association of Washington Cities, Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Clark County Sheriff John Horch, Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith and Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope. Representatives with the Downtown Spokane Partnership and Washington Retail Association also testified in support of the measure.

“The positive testimony on this bill by local government and law enforcement clearly shows this would be an effective way to reduce crime and improve public safety in our communities,” said Holy. “Smaller cities and counties often can’t afford to pay their portion for future officers to attend a police academy, and they sometimes can’t afford to replace officers who are leaving the force or retiring. This bill would promote having an adequate number of officers on the streets to keep our communities safer.”

Holy’s proposal has two components. First, it would direct 0.1% of the current state sales tax to local governments to let them hire more law-enforcement personnel. The bill is expected to produce about $250 million a year to help cities and counties hire more officers. The revenues would be used by local governments to hire law-enforcement officers up to at least the national average per capita (2.4 per 1,000). Once that threshold is reached, local governments could use the funds in ways they consider best to reduce crime.

“This bill would not raise taxes but instead would redirect existing revenue toward hiring more law-enforcement officers,” explained Holy.

SB 5361 also would increase the number of training classes at the state’s basic law enforcement academy to a minimum of 25 per year.

“There is a long backlog at the academy, which is causing hired officers to have to wait several months to get the training they need to be on patrol. More training slots mean more hired officers can get to work in communities sooner,” said Holy.

SB 5361, which was approved by the Law and Justice Committee late last week, now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.