OLYMPIA, Wash. – Governor Inslee signed new legislation that affects law enforcement and how they provide public safety services that will go into effect on July 25 leaving many police departments revising their responses to crime.
HB1054 passed 54-43 at the House level and 27-22 at the Senate, signed by the Governor May 18, establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers.
The regulations under this bill include:
- Restricting the use of neck restraints and chokeholds
- Restricting the use of military equipment including firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater, machine guns, armed helicopters, armed or armored drones, armed vessels, armed vehicles, armed aircraft, tanks, long-range acoustic hailing devices, rockets, rocket launchers, bayonets, explosive grenades, incendiary grenades, missiles, directed energy systems, and electromagnetic spectrum weapons. Law enforcement must return any of these to the federal agency from which they were acquired or destroy the equipment by December 31, 2022.
- Restrictions on tear gas
- Restricting vehicular pursuits unless there is probable cause that the person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent crime or is driving under the influence.
- Restricting firing upon a moving vehicle unless necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious harm
- Restricting no-knock warrants
- Regulating canine teams
HB1310, concerning permissible uses of force by law enforcement and correctional officers, passed 55-42 at House and 26-23 Senate, signed by Gov. Inslee also May 18.
The bill states the following:
“A peace officer may use physical force against another person when necessary to: protect against criminal conduct where there is probable cause to make an arrest; effect an arrest; prevent an escape; or protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used. A peace officer may use deadly force against another person only when necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or another person.”
Adding to the State v. Blake decision in February resulting in the decriminalization of simple possession charges, many police departments throughout Washington state have been scrambling to interpret the intent of the legislation, working with legal advisors to determine legal implications, and creating policies to match the new laws.
“Public safety requires the trust and support of the community, and our law enforcement officers need public support to do their important job. We must get the balance right and thoughtfully ensure that solutions will not make problems worse. We support changes that advance public safety and respect victims and others who need police help, who are often forgotten in the dialogue. We need to get this right,” Andy J. Hwang, Chief of Police for Federal Way Police Department, said in a public statement.
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office
Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, in response to these legislations, presented the following public statement:
“As your Sheriff, I have participated in statewide forums on these very topics, talked with other local law enforcement leaders, and have spent countless hours with Sheriff’s Office Command Staff to determine the best course of action for our community here in Snohomish County. To say that this has been a massive undertaking would be an understatement.”
“I want and need the community to understand that these new bills will change how we deliver police services in Snohomish County. While some of the bills deal with a new statewide structure to address officer misconduct – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – several of the bills took policy discretion away from local leaders and, in effect, wrote policies for local law enforcement at the state level. Some of these policies conflict with other sections of state law, some are left open to interpretation, and some simply had unintended consequences not foreseen by the legislators. These are some of the reasons this has been such a massive undertaking.”
Lynnwood Police Department
While many departments question what the future of policing will look like within their jurisdiction, some, such as the Lynnwood Police Department, believe their tactics will, for the most part, remain virtually unchanged.
According to Joanna Small, PIO for Lynnwood Police Department, many of the new regulations in HB1054 were never tactics the Lynnwood police force put into use in the first place. Vascular neck restraints, for example, were banned in a moratorium in July of last year.
“Even if it’s not something we regularly use in patrol, or even something that we necessarily carry, it still has to be written into our policy so all of that has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb,” Small told the Lynnwood Times. “Although it won’t have an impact on your everyday officer, because we already don’t do them, in terms of rewriting policy, we will still have a lot of that.”
Aside from policy revisions, Small does not anticipate the Lynnwood Police Department would require much retraining other than the use-of-force bill, HB1310, not because they’re implementing different strategies but because the threshold of use of force will be so high.
Additionally, the Lynnwood Police Department, under new legislation which prohibits equipment over .50 caliber ammunition, will have to surrender some of their equipment including their less-lethal launchers that fire rubber bullets and are used, albeit infrequently, to disarm a suspect without using deadly force.
“Those launchers are an essential tool. We don’t think the legislator intended we have to get rid of that,” Small told the Lynnwood Times.
Although Small said it is difficult to tell whether these bills were in response to last year’s George Floyd protests, stating that legislation has been working to regulate police overuse of force for years, she would not be surprised if the protests influenced their approval.
The Lynnwood Police Department used one of these launchers recently with a suspect who was armed with a machete. To disarm him, they deployed a less-lethal launcher which caused him to comply without hurting himself. According to Small, using these launchers saved a life.
Lynnwood Police Department is still awaiting a department-wide directive later this week to determine how they will respond. They plan to publish a series of videos, following a similar model done by Kent Police Department, discussing the new legislation and how it will affect Lynnwood’s Police Department.
Last month in Sedro-Woolley, local officers were called to a scene where an “out-of-control” male was acting erratically and showing signs of substance abuse. He stood on top of his car, stripped off his clothes, and threw debris in the air. Sedro-Woolley Officers requested aid and requested that the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) unit from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office respond to the incident.
On scene, Sedro-Woolley Police Department had two Sergeants who are both trained Crisis Negotiators. Sedro-Woolley Police Department also had two patrol officers who have received the latest in training from the Police Academy in Crisis Intervention. Officers attempted to calm and talk to the subject, but he did not respond and refused to enter the ambulance.
Around 9:46 p.m., all officers and deputies cleared the scene with the male inside the residence still erratic. During this incident, multiple priority calls were left pending. According to Chief Lin Tucker, of the Sedro-Woolley Police Department, a month before this incident the officers could have subdued the individual when their diplomatic approach failed; but because of recent legislative mandates, they were forced to leave the scene.