Police safety video raises issues and ire among elected officials

It is just a video; a video that Snohomish County elected officials and police chiefs made, urging lawmakers to amend laws and make public safety safer for cops and all of us.

Everett police body cam video frame from the video titled “A public safety message from your police chiefs, mayors, sheriff and elected officials.”

Yet, this five-minute YouTube appeal for legislative changes sparked outrage from some lawmakers who feel it is a politically motivated attack on them and does not reflect good policing or better public safety. State Sen. Marko Liias, a 21st District Democrat who represents parts of Edmonds and Lynnwood, said that the video simply “repeats Republican talking points” and labels it “an overly simplistic narrative.”

Those who participated in the video insist that it is not a political ploy, but a plea for lawmakers to amend laws passed during the pandemic and restore needed police powers. Snohomish County Sheriff, Adam Fortney plays a key role in the video. His opening narrative:

“Public safety decreased as criminals became more brazen knowing police cannot pursue them to enforce the law. We are not advocating for more pursuits. We are advocating for more police authority to engage in pursuits, so the criminal action is not given a free pass.”

Fortney is no stranger to controversy. He was the target of two recall campaigns in 2021, which both failed, brought in part, because he refused to follow the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions, and ordered his deputies not to enforce stay-at-home orders.

Politics – or – policing?

State Sen. Marko Liias

In an interview earlier this week, Liias argued that the video is a political attack piece: This video is lifting up themes the Republican campaigns are raising in the November election rather than challenges for the legislature,”  Liias said. “It’s not as if everything was great, then these laws passed and suddenly there was an explosion of crime.”

Janelle Cass

Republican Janelle Cass is challenging Liias in the November election. She has made crime a centerpiece of her campaign, stating this in announcing her run for the 21st District seat: “Anti-police and soft-on-crime laws coming from the majority party contribute directly to escalating crime and more drug addicts in our state.”

State Rep. Emily Wicks, a 38th District Democrat from Marysville, called the video “disgusting and dishonest.” She said during legislative hearings on police bills that some law enforcement “… wanted the bills dead.” The narrative around the new laws, Wick added, is that some departments protested that “‘Criminals can drive away without repercussions’ and ‘we can no longer do our jobs.’ That, my friends, is a crock …”

State Sen. Jesse Salomon

But State Sen. Jesse Salomon, a 32nd District Democrat who represents parts of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace as well as Woodway, said this of the video: “I think raise(s) compelling concerns. I did co-sponsor a bill to restore greater ability for police officers to pursue drivers of vehicles suspected of criminal activity. I am confident we will be considering this issue again next session.”

Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett in a video frame from “A public safety message from your police chiefs, mayors, sheriff and elected officials.”

Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett said that the intent of the video — not politics — convinced her to take part, adding that it has “absolutely nothing to do with partisan politics or political agenda.” She insisted that she doesn’t want the issues the video raises “… to be politicized.”

Bennett has two brief appearances on screen, and her longest exchange runs less than 10 seconds: “Fewer police officers mean less ability to provide justice for victims. They need to know we are here for them when they call.”

The chief told me that Edmonds policy on police pursuit is already “very restrictive,” and that the need to apprehend cannot outweigh public safety. But she believes lawmakers can give police more leeway on when they can pursue; “I think the legislature not fixing the pursuit legislation is a disservice to community protection,” she said. There is “potential danger for police and disorder if we can’t stop” some people, Bennett added.

What mayors and police chiefs in the video say they want

Many of the new crime laws enacted in 2021 were forged in the crucible of nationwide protest and reaction after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Washington State Legislature wrote nearly a dozen new laws, from pursuit to police accountability, from training to social justice to mental health crises. Some of the laws were unclear; police departments did not know how their officers were supposed to react in certain situations.

“When people disagree, sometimes it takes (lawmakers) a couple of years to get things right,” Liias said. That seems true of the pursuit law. And, on new drug laws, Liias added that “no one suggested that they be permanent or perfect.”

According to the video, what mayors and chiefs want, first, is for lawmakers to “fix” or amend that pursuit law. The way it is now written, it prohibits officers from chasing a suspect unless they have “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is impaired — by drugs or alcohol — or they believe they are an escaped felon or has committed a violent crime or sex crime. Officers must also decide if the person fleeing in an “imminent threat” and whether the risk of the suspect getting away outweighs the dangers of a high-speed chase.

Video frame from the public safety message.

The second issue is the 2021 State Supreme Court decision that threw out the law on drug possession, the backbone of Washington drug prosecution for the past 70 years. The old law allowed a person to be arrested and convicted of a felony for possessing drugs without having to prove they knew about the drugs or intended to use them. That decision, in the middle of the state legislative session, threw drug enforcement into chaos. Lawmakers are still wrestling with what new drug laws should include. The court decision left cities and counties scrambling to throw out decades of convictions and to refund fines. A legislative task force is already developing a new drug prosecution law for next session.

A surge in car theft is another issue the video blames on the new laws. It highlights statistics that show that there were more than 4,500 car thefts in the state last year; already this year, that number has almost doubled, to 8,300.

Former King County Sheriff John Urquhart testifying before Congress in 2013.

But in an August 2022 Seattle Times opinion piece, former King County Sheriff John Urquhart questions blaming the spike in car thefts on the new laws. FBI data, he writes, shows that increase started in 2020 — before the new pursuit law — and is part of a national increase. To the argument that speeders are “not pulling over,” which the Washington State Patrol reports has happened more than 900 times this year, Urquhart said, “Unfortunately, criminal suspects get away all the time. Do we really want a potentially lethal police pursuit for the noncriminal infraction of speeding, expired tabs or failure to signal?”

The state Legislature already knows it is under pressure this next session to amend and clarify these laws. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat, agreed that fixing the drug law “will be one of the most important issues we tackle in the 2023 legislative session.” He said lawmakers must get “the right solution for our community as a whole and for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorder.”

In his op-ed, former sheriff Urquhart said he thinks “It would be a mistake to roll back the new law on vehicular pursuits, especially before even allowing time to see the outcomes.” He said that deaths from vehicular pursuits here have dropped from seven each in 2019 and 2020, to just one in the year since the chase law took effect.

Last year, lawmakers came within a handful of votes of amending the pursuit law to restore more authority to police; at the last minute, some lawmakers who had promised to approve the amendments backed out. Sen. Liias believes there is room for compromise, but that “repealing that law would lead to more dangerous outcomes.”

The timing of the video clearly seems designed to put more election-time pressure on legislators and perhaps change the outcome of some races. But supporters and critics of the crime laws know the only fix for the perceived flaws is to work together in the next session. Will the “safety video” prompt that cooperation or stifle it? For progress to be made, it will take what Urquhart calls “cooler heads to prevail.”

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. Good Grief we are talking the welfare of the people! Who really gives a hoot if the policeman is an elephant or a jackass! Give the police what they need. You might find what you give them is what we want as well.

    1. 12 fewer deaths from police pursuits since the pursuit restriction was passed. Are you willing to sacrifice your family member to write a speeding ticket?

        1. Thanks, Nick. Only 1 death so far, since the law took effect. The new pursuit law appears to be saving lives.

  2. Easily blowing off legitimate issues raised by honest law enforcement officials who live these restrictive laws 24/7 as Republican talking points portrays a politician afraid to confront the results of their public safety votes.

    The Senator’s assumption is that all law enforcemnt officials are Republicans and is the only reason they are doing the video. That is as absurd as saying all Democratic Senators are as anti-law enforcement and public safety as Senator Liias.

    Would have thought better of a representative of the people.

  3. I thought the video was excellent and I am all in favor of the suggestions. Why is this political at all? Law enforcement protects us. Give the enforcers of the law what they need!

  4. To me this letter is just a free ad for people running for office, with pictures and all, and the “all-or-nothing” being right instead of working together. Not how I hope our elected officials to get things done.

  5. Marco Liaas is anti police and his votes in the legislature are definitely responsible for the rise in crime we are experiencing. His lack of common sense is glaring; he voted yes to make Washington a sanctuary state preventing local police from helping federal law enforcement; he voted to limit tactics police can use to pursue criminals – talk about stupid; he voted to allow the possession of personal possession of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – great idea Marko; and he voted for the early release of felons, letting violent predators and murderers out of jail – he is a progressive ideologue and his politics go against the citizens of Washington. These are just a few of the boneheaded votes he and other sitting legislators, like Strom Peterson, have forced on our communities. It is time to change direction.

  6. Rather than tackle any issue on its face value, Marko Liias turns the issue into a political debate. Why is it that he refuses to listen to what his constituents want. Marko do you really feel you know what we need better than we do?

  7. Left, right, or center – crime is objectively worse than it has ever been, even before the pandemic. Our family has had to call the police more in the last 2 years to deal with issues happening in our neighborhood than all other years combined. Enough already – we need to listen to those who are actually doing the hard work. Thank you to Chief Bennett for speaking out and to the EPD for all they do each day.

  8. Let’s be serious. How often have law enforcement personnel used a video to influence public opinion? Adam Fortney made this video for political reasons and it’s too bad he roped other law enforcement folks in. Pay attention to what John Urquhart has to say.

  9. Any public elected official that has a problem with this video is part of the problem and not part of the solution. I support the police. Hopefully this November there will be a big flushing sound, nation wide, that gets rid of proven failures and we get some common sense back with our elected officials.

  10. It seems our State Legislators are either deaf, dumb, or blind ! They don’t seem to care or recognize that crime has increase substantially in the past few years, due to their efforts to tie the hands of police to perform their duties !

  11. Support our law enforcement officers…we are hearing it more and more, but do those that make the laws hear the outcry? It appears Not. The past 2-3 years have shown an increase in crime above pre-pandemic level and the young people dying from drugs has exploded. The laws made by the current legislators have been to favor the criminals, not for public safety. Yes, we do need change to get back on track and support our law enforcement community. Lilas has been on the wrong side of this issue for a long time and has numerous times voted for the criminals and against law enforcement. We need someone representing Edmonds who cares about public safety and the law abiding citizens instead of the criminals.

  12. I agree Helen. I would add though that many of our criminals are probably stealing for $ for those very drugs you speak of here. I will also say that it must stop but I do have compassion for anyone who is addicted to drugs. If you watch Dope Sick or just know you will realize that is how they feed the beast. SO I say we help them if we can but helping them means keeping them awhile and trying to de-tox. Our hospital is under attack. Its all of the time. We are losing nurses. They have cried out right here for help. Sometimes tough love is the gentlest love. These laws of release and release are not working for the criminals or the citizens or the merchants. I hope a solution can be agreed on here and very soon. Take care Helen. Be Safe, be careful.
    I truly believe that at state level having drugs not illegal is a mistake. Change that law now. Any amount of a dangerous drug should be illegal. For the safety of our kids here and also the criminals that might not be, if it wasn’t so easy to get.

  13. I thought the video was great and a reflection that it is getting less and less safe. Failing to pursue law breakers makes no sense. Get the laws back to where they were when we felt safer and more secure.

  14. Marko was told by the Washington Assoc. of Chiefs and Sheriffs that the “police reforms” he backed would severely and negatively impact effective policing. Personal appeals to Liias were made by many South County Police Chief’s to ask he amend these bills. He ignored them and he continues to ignore them. Now Marko denies any ownership for our skyrocketing crime rates.
    He is out of touch and not serving the public interest in people wanting to be safe from crime in their homes and neighborhoods.

  15. Bob Throndsen is a local treasure. The diversity of the comments above, regardless of which view the reader holds, reflect journalistic gold – an unbiased reporting of facts, reflecting both sides of an argument without prejudice. I am so very grateful to find such quality, particularly in local journalism, and particularly in an age when false information and skewed reportage are so common. Thanks to MEN for continued principled journalism and quality local coverage, and to Bob Throndsen especially – I look for that byline now and know I will read the truth.

  16. The no-pursuit law has been used in other counties and states, with exactly the same disastrous results, so it’s disingenuous of Liias et al to pretend that they’re trying something new, and will get it right over time. If you want to get it right, repeal it… that’s what the other jurisdictions did in order to lower the crime rate. The idea that our Democrat politicians who served us this idiotic law are “outraged” about the video from law enforcement, reeks of arrogance and narcissism: “How dare you question us, plebes?” You are elected to serve us, not denigrate us when we call out your mistakes. Studies show that crime is one of those conditions, where no matter what the crime rate,once crime happens to you, your perception the crime rate is that it increased to 100% . More than double the # of people are getting this feeling in our area, and we know that it’s due to your laws, laws that are not new, just inept and that protect criminals. Hopefully, this November we’ll be able to change things and not wait for you to put more detrimental laws on the books.

  17. Cities with highest murder rate as of 6/30/22: (Nola.com)

    City             Party in Control R or D

    New Orleans LA         D 
    Baltimore  MD            D   
    Birmingham AL          D    
    St Louis.                     D     
    Milwaukee                  D
    Cleveland                   D
    Rochester NY.            D
    Philadelphia               D 
    Atlanta                       D
    Kansas City               D
    Washington DC.        D   
    Richmond VA.           D    
    Oakland CA.              D
    Chicago.                    D

    Others Cities w/high and growing crime rates
    New York                D
    Detroit. D   
    San Francisco.       D
    Los Angeles.          D     
    Minneapolis.           D
    Seattle                    D    
    Portland OR.           D      
    Austin TX.               D

    1. It’s a fantasy to think a political party can eliminate crime. Crime is learned from people modeling greed and getting away with it, they feel entitled to have. There are people in both political parties who do that, but it seems the richer you are the more you get away with it. So we catch the poor buggers on the bottom of the heap while the rich get away with big crimes and get richer. It’s what’s happening in the country right now. Focus on the big guys and the minions way down on the bottom will notice that crime doesn’t pay.

      This is a time in history when we hear about the big crimes, but not so much about those people getting punished for them.

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