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Washington Senate hearing considers crime bills

OLYMPIA – The state could have new ways to crack down on some of Spokane’s biggest crime problems like car theft and repeat burglars, as well as take early aim at the “knockout” assault fad through a trio of bills considered by a Senate panel Wednesday.

At times, the Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing seemed to come straight from the Spokane police blotter, with bills sponsored by Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and endorsed by Spokane law enforcement officials to fight local problems.

One bill would make it a crime to possess “shaved” keys, or those that have been altered so they fit multiple locks on doors or car ignitions. Spokane has substantial problems with auto theft, and just having shaved keys should be grounds for arrest, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

Another bill would require people convicted of more than nine counts of burglary or other major property crimes to serve mandatory sentences without qualifying for early release programs. Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Haskell said he has some burglars with 30 or more convictions who are “eating up the community resources and the judicial resources.”

Knezovich said property crimes are increasing in Spokane, and he has a list of repeat offenders who don’t do what he called significant time. “As soon as they’re arrested, these crimes go down.”

A third bill would make random assault a felony rather than a gross misdemeanor. The bill is in response to the so-called knockout game, in which a group of people, usually young adults, try to knock out an unsuspecting stranger on a sidewalk, sometimes posting a video of the attack on the Internet. A November attack on a man in Spokane Valley is suspected of being a knockout-game assault, although Haskell said the investigation of that case is still pending.

If true, that would be the only known case of a knockout assault in Washington. Haskell said the activity is spreading around the country, and the state could get in front of the trend. Victims are often elderly people or minorities, Padden said.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he questioned making that crime more serious under the law than an assault stemming from a grudge between two people who know each other. “Maybe it’s a fad game that’s going to play itself out,” he said, and the Legislature might not need to change statutes for it.

The panel deferred action on all three proposals.