Washington law enforcement officers are concerned by recent legislation introduced by Washington State Democrats and policy stances made by Big Tech. These developments are concerning for our communities, our children, and our officers.

Earlier this month, I met with several Yakima County law enforcement officers and the Yakima Gang Task Force, and they made it abundantly clear there are numerous issues on the horizon. Washington State Senate Bill 5122 was one in a series of proposed and implemented bills that would make it more difficult for law enforcement officers to protect our communities while paving the way for increased criminal activity.

This bill would raise the age under which children can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system from 8-17 to 13-19. While seemingly straightforward, it could lead to disastrous consequences. According to local law enforcement, this legislation would incentivize street gangs to manipulate children into committing the worst of crimes. Gun violence in Yakima County is already 8 times higher than other cities in Washington because of the local gang activity. While this bill has not yet passed, local law enforcement remains concerned due to ongoing efforts to promote this and similar legislation.

Children as young as 10 are being coerced into joining gangs, and the juvenile justice system, while imperfect, is still one of the best ways to get them out of a life of crime and into drug treatment, education, and other rehabilitative services.

Reducing the age at which these children can be prosecuted removes this option and sets them up to fail.

Local gangs are very much aware of this legislation and will intentionally recruit younger members because they know that the courts will either go easier on them or not prosecute them at all. Our local law enforcement agencies are already seeing this happen. Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic noted that, “What we’re seeing in Yakima is pushing down the youthfulness of the offenders because the punishment is not as severe.”

Any legislation that puts more children in harm’s way is unacceptable.

Now, Facebook is in on the game, too.

Law enforcement officers utilize a range of tools to weed out bad actors, especially in today’s digital age. For a while, undercover Facebook accounts were a part of that toolkit. Now, Facebook is pushing back by codifying new policies in updated terms of use specifically for law enforcement that ban them from using these important tools.

Police officers around the country use undercover Facebook accounts to track gang members, lure child predators, and snare thieves. These accounts are not against the law, and the information gained can be pivotal evidence in criminal and civil cases. Our law enforcement officers are concerned by Facebook’s pushback, and how it will affect their operations here in Central Washington.

These two examples are just the tipping point of the concerning reforms we’re seeing in our state and across the nation – many of which are part of a larger call to defund or cripple our police departments. Indeed, many of the new laws in Washington are bureaucratizing the police force and making them more inefficient. I unequivocally reject the calls to defund our police. If we are to be a civil and just society, we must maintain and enforce the rule of law, and the vast majority of our law enforcement officers are working to do just that.

I continuously engage with our local law enforcement officers to ensure that the legislation we work on in Congress improves the safety of Central Washington communities. Our state legislature and Big Tech companies like Facebook must do the same.

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