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Snohomish County sheriff, policing laws
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Snohomish County Sheriff: New laws for policing could ‘put the community at danger’

Snohomish County Sheriff's deputies investigating a mysterious death in 2019. (KIRO 7)

A new series of laws are set to go into effect as of July 25, 2021, that will impact policing in a pretty negative way, or at least that’s what the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH is hearing from folks who work in law enforcement.

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One of the particular laws that goes into effect governs the use of force (HB 1310). Under this law, force or any sort of physical contact can only be used if officers are making an arrest where they have probable cause a suspect is escaping detention, or if there is an imminent threat of injury or death.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney says that could be problematic in some real cases.

“We’re trying to work through all of … these new laws, this new legislation,” he said. “The problem — and I heard a discussion earlier about it — is when we are helping either aid units, medical workers, designated crisis responders with people that are in a mental health crisis. We never want to use force in those situations.”

Sometimes it does take a bit to get the person the help they need, or that the mental health professional feels they need, Fortney explained.

“We are probably going to start walking away from those calls a whole lot more often than we would have in the past,” he said. “And I just don’t think that that’s good for anybody in society and our community. It’s not a right or left issue. It’s not on one side or the other. It’s just what’s good for the community.”

“I just don’t think some of these laws were thought through all the way or the repercussions of some of these laws were thought through all the way,” he added. “That’s what, not just the Sheriff’s office, but all of law enforcement in Washington state is trying to sort through this legislation right now. We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Fortney says his office does still plan to show up when people call.

“We’re calling it ‘respond and assess’ right now,” he said. “We’re going to respond. We think we have an obligation to the community to do. But not all police chiefs and sheriffs are taking that stance. Some are just saying, ‘All we’ve done is create liability. Why are we even going to go?'”

“We’re not going to do that, the sheriff’s office. We’ll respond, we’ll assess, and we’ll figure out if we can help in a given situation or not,” Fortney added.

The other new law concerning police tactics (HB 1054) effectively bans car chases, as Jason explained. Fortney is upset by that change and says there’s nothing they can do about it.

“It sounds OK on paper when it says you can only chase a car for a violent offense,” Fortney said, adding that the definition by state law books is “very limited.”

For a police chase, he says officers now have to have probable cause that a violent offense or crime has been committed, or “reasonable suspicion for DUI.”

“There’s going to be times when, … especially in the middle of the night when these crimes occur and they’re in progress, there’s less traffic on the road. It happens. You’d be surprised how often it happens. Where, say, there’s a robbery of a convenience store or a home invasion robbery or something where you can find the car leaving the scene, we’re not going to be able to do anything about it anymore,” Fortney said.

“And it’s not right. I don’t care what anybody says. What they passed when it comes to police pursuits, it’s just not right. I think it’s going to put the community at danger,” he added.

Fortney says law enforcement representatives spent a lot of time lobbying the session in Olympia.

“These legislators knew what they were getting into when they passed this stuff,” he said. “We told them what was going to happen. They said, ‘we hear you, we understand, and we’re passing this stuff anyway,’
so they knew what they were getting into.”

While he thinks there’s room for improvement in law enforcement when it comes to accountability, Fortney says there will be complications when legislators write police policy.

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Now, Fortney says, they’re trying to sort through the laws to figure out what it all means in real terms to the deputy or the officer who is on the street.

“We’re still confused on what they meant because these laws contradict each other,” he said.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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