A number of police reforms, signed into law by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, go into effect this week.
Twelve policing-related bills were passed through the state legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year, each of which went into effect on Sunday, July 25.
Among the 12 bills signed into law, the new regulations address a variety of policing functions by limiting the use of deadly force, changing the way police respond to mental health calls, and banning police use of ammunition above .50 caliber, except when used with less-lethal rounds. The new laws on the state books also include a ban on chokeholds, neck restraints, and “no-knock” warrants; as well, the new laws include higher standards on when a police officer can give pursuit of a suspect, and establish an oversight system when investigating police misconduct.
Law enforcement officials across the state have recently expressed concern about the reforms. According to a Spokesman-Review report on a press conference held by 20 sheriffs and police chiefs from across the state in Spokane, law enforcement officials voiced concerns that the legislation will hinder their ability to do their jobs.
A news release from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs raises concerns that, among others, “use of force law changes may significantly reduce the types of calls to which law enforcement will respond, especially if they do not involve a crime or may be better directed to other resources.”
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, some police departments in Washington have taken precautionary measures in response to the ban on .50 caliber ammunition by taking less-than-lethal devices, such as beanbag rounds and rubber bullets, out of service.
Marco Monteblanco, president of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, called the action by some departments “an unwise overreaction to the legislation enacted in 2021 and ignores the overall context and legislative intent of lawmakers.”
In a press release, Monteblanco called for state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to issue a legal opinion to clarify the ambiguity within the police reforms coming into effect.
Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer echoed the call for legal clarification on the issue of police reforms. Songer said he has been in contact with Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney David Quesnel to sort out the guidelines police departments will be following. To his understanding, police departments would be hindered in their ability to respond to crisis calls, although he acknowledged the law isn’t clear on the topic. If the sheriff’s office does get a crisis call, he said his office would continue to respond but wouldn’t be allowed to perform much of the duties they normally would.
Songer said to his understanding, law enforcement would need to provide counselors to respond to crisis calls, because should a law enforcement official use any kind of force, which he said under the new law could be interpreted as simply putting their hands on someone, the office may be liable for legal action.
“It’s a mess,” Songer said. “It’s a real disservice to law enforcement and the citizens we serve.”
In recent days, Songer signed a letter, along with 36 other sheriffs across Washington state affirming their responsibility as sheriffs to uphold the constitution, specifically the people’s second amendment right to bear arms.
House Bill 1310, which creates an expectation for law enforcement to exhaust de-escalation tactics before resorting to the use of deadly force when a crime is being committed or there is an immediate threat to others, was sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) who issued a joint statement with House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) clarifying the goal and intent of the signed legislation.
“Before HB 1310, officers were authorized to use any amount of force necessary to effect an arrest and there were different use-of-force standards across the state. To establish a consistent, statewide standard, we worked closely with community members and our partners in law enforcement to codify into law the preservation and protection of human life as the highest priority,” the legislators wrote in a news release.
“We would especially like to thank the Washington Fraternal Order of Police for their steadfast collaboration on this important legislation. HB 1310 creates a standard of reasonable care when determining whether to use physical force.
“That standard requires officers to exhaust all available de-escalation tactics, to consider the characteristics and conditions of the person to whom force is being applied, and to use the minimal amount of force necessary to bring someone into custody. Through de-escalation, police can diffuse potentially volatile situations and find peaceful solutions, especially with people suffering from a mental or behavioral health crisis,” the legislators wrote.
In response to concerns raised by the law enforcement community on how they are to perform duties with someone in crisis, the legislators said that “Nothing in the new law prevents officers from responding to calls for service and we believe it is law enforcement’s duty to respond.”
Johnson said at a press conference in Spokane that the attorney general is expected to release a legal opinion to clarify the new rules law enforcement should follow, especially concerning law enforcement’s role responding to crisis calls, The Spokesman-Review reported.