Tacoma Police Union president: Shootings result of ‘defund’ movement

Jan 17, 2023, 4:02 PM
Tacoma police are investigating after a 16-year-old boy was injured in a shooting. (KIRO 7 News)
(KIRO 7 News)

Tacoma Police Union president Henry Betts said we are now seeing the results of the police “defund” movement and that law enforcement needs “more support” to do its job.

There were 79 killings across Pierce County last year, up from 68 in 2021, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune. There have also been several already this year, with more involving youth.

“We’ve got to think back to decisions that were made two and three years ago, and I think our society is so fast-paced now, everything is so instant, that we forget that decisions we make in the past,” Betts said on the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “I’m alluding to ‘defunding,’ removing police from a lot of the equation here. We removed our School Resource Officers program. We were kicked out of the schools. We don’t have a gang unit. We don’t have a violence reduction team. Overall staffing reductions, the defined movement, where we reduced our budget greatly.”

Drive-bys and shootings involving children seem to be increasing quickly. Rantz wondered, “Whenever I see the kinds of criminal acts with youth, when guns are being fired from cars, for example, it makes me think of gang violence. Is that what’s going on right now?”

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“In general, I think when we look over the rise in shootings that we’ve had in the last couple of years, that’s definitely a major factor in it,” Betts explained. “It seems that when we actually have somebody die, it gets a lot more attention. I don’t think that this is an anomaly.”

Betts said he doesn’t believe the dramatic increase in crime has not been months in the making but years.

“I think when you see them back to back, it gets the media attention. So it’s more discussed,” Betts said. “But I don’t think it’s an anomaly or a sudden occurrence. I think we’ve had a lot of shootings in the last couple of years, and they just haven’t gotten as much play.”

The other thing that Betts believes is leading to the increase in shootings is the lack of community and political support for law enforcement.

“We deal with a lot of the kids, these are children, and they deserve to grow up safe and to be safe in the environment. At times, when there is a life safety issue, though, we need to support the police who have to come in and take enforcement action,” Betts said. “And that lack of support is having really bad outcomes. So when we do take action to arrest a juvenile, it’s important to have two things. One is being supported by leadership and community leaders to say it was right for the officers to come in and make that arrest with a kid with a gun, or after a shooting or after a homicide.

“Another is that when we arrest the responsible party if that’s a juvenile, we should not be getting push back or be constantly labeled ‘the bad guys’ for making that arrest,” Betts explained. “We owe it to the rest of the community to make an arrest for those violent crimes.”

Betts told Rantz that the way policing works in America is by prioritization.

“If we have pending priority calls, we’re not going to be doing those other programs and the other things that allow us to engage with youth, like being active in the school.”

Betts said police don’t have the resources to be part of programs that prevent crime in the long run.

“I know that previously, those programs, the ability to have a gang unit that was out there contacting a lot of the youth prior to there being a homicide, talk to them when it’s just a fight at the school, or interact and call the school resource officer to get some information about a new name that popped up. We’re missing that now. And I think we’re kind of seeing the end result of that.”

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Tacoma Police Union president: Shootings result of ‘defund’ movement