WASHINGTON — Legislation aimed at fixing problems with interstate transfers of convicted felons like the one who gunned down four Lakewood, Wash., police officers was introduced Thursday in Congress by four Washington state lawmakers.
Two bills, crafted in coordination with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and law enforcement and federal agencies, would require that the Justice Department review existing rules covering such transfers and that improvements be made in the sharing of prisoner information between federal, state and local police and the criminal justice system.
The case centers on Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas parolee who shot the four officers as they drank coffee at a local coffee shop early on Nov. 29. Records show Washington officials did not receive Clemmons' full criminal history before he moved to the state in 2004.
"We honor the memories of our fallen officers by learning tough lessons and making sure it will never happen again," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who introduced the bills in the Senate.
Democratic Reps. Adam Smith and Jay Inslee, along with Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, introduced the measures in the House.
As a former King County prosecutor, Smith said he understood how important it was for law enforcement jurisdictions to share information.
"Last November, we saw the disastrous outcome of a breakdown in communication," Smith said. "Based on lessons learned from this tragic shooting, the legislation introduced today seeks to address the shortcomings of the current interstate polices and will protect and empower our law enforcement officials."
The bill introductions come as Washington state has refused to accept the transfer of three more Arkansas parolees and decided to ignore a formal opinion from the Interstate Commission on Adult Offender Supervision that its refusal was unlawful.
In the summer of 2009, just months before the shooting, Clemmons was charged with multiple crimes in Washington state. Washington officials asked Arkansas to take Clemmons back. Arkansas refused.
More recently, when Arkansas sought to transfer the three parolees to Washington state, Washington state requested full criminal histories on each of them and the authority to send them back if needed. Arkansas responded by asking the interstate commission to rule whether Washington state's preconditions were legal. The opinion, issued earlier this month, was a flat no.
Commission officials have the legal authority, upheld in court, to sanction Washington state.
"I believe more criminal history information sharing prior to one state accepting an offender from another and clear authority to end supervision by the state receiving when the community is at risk are common-sense public safety improvements for the citizens of Washington state and for all states across the country," said Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections.
The bills introduced Thursday will require a hard look at the interstate compact that has governed parolee transfers since 1937. All 50 states are members of the interstate agreement, as are the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"The painful loss of too many law enforcement officers in our state demonstrates the critical need to enhance the protection of our communities — both for officers and citizens," Gregoire said.
(Sean Robinson of the Tacoma News Tribune contributed.)
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