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‘Legitimate issues that need to be addressed’ in new state policing laws

Cadets LeAnne Cone, left, of the Vancouver Police Dept., and Kevin Burton-Crow, right, of the Thurston Co. Sheriff's Dept., walk past a rock at the Washington state Criminal Justice Training Commission engraved with "WSCJTC Values Professionalism, Accountability Integrity," on the way to a training exercise Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Burien, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In order to get some perspective on the new policing laws in Washington, KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show spoke to someone who is in charge of training the next generation of law enforcement officers: Monica Alexander, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

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A number of police officers, chiefs, and sheriffs across the state have expressed concern that the new laws are really hampering police. But how are new officers being trained in regards to the new laws?

“This is so complex because when we’re looking at this, we’re looking at three different bills at once. We’re looking at [House Bill] 1310, [House Bill] 1054, and Senate Bill 5051,” Alexander said. “And those bills kind of interplay with one another. And so I can understand that officers are looking at these and feeling very confused and, quite frankly, chiefs and sheriffs.”

“There truly are some legitimate issues that need to be addressed. But I think we can figure out ways to address these issues, … and in the interest of public safety, we have to,” she added.

Her team, made up primarily of retired law enforcement officers, is digging deep into these bills.

“We’re looking at probable cause versus reasonable suspicion. And that’s a big flip,” she said. “But what I looked at is how big of a flip it was when all of a sudden Miranda in 1966 entered the world and police officers thought, ‘OK, we’re never going to get a conviction ever.’ Obviously that has passed. And so I believe the same thing is going to happen here,” she said.

She does, however, think legislators will have to take a look at certain things in the bills.

“I’ll tell you an example. In 1310, it encourages law enforcement to use less lethal, including bean bags. I mean, it specifically says that in the law,” she explained. “In 1054, because of the caliber that it takes to deploy a bean bag, it says basically we can’t use them. So obviously that’s going to confuse people, right? Which law do we pick?”

“And then you throw in if you do something that is wrongful behavior, the Criminal Justice Training Commission will take your certification,” she added.

You cannot be a police officer in the state without that certification.

“The police agencies commission their people, CJTC certifies them, and they’re married, you have to have one to do the other,” Alexander said. “So I totally get where officers are trying to protect their future and their careers. But I also talked to our [Attorney General] who provided me with a statement and breaking down 1054 and 1310, and basically telling us where we won’t go as far as the certification part of it are revoking someone’s certification until these laws are fixed and make sense because we’re telling officers to do two different things.”

While she’d love to say this would all be fixed tomorrow, that’s not how the law works.

“Once the law is on the books it takes a legislative fix,” she said. “I have been talking to a lot of people about what CJTC can do to make officers feel more comfortable about their certification not being taken because I did put out a statement that was provided to me in conjunction with our AG’s Office.”

“But people go, ‘yeah that’s just a statement. The law is the law, and who knows what a judge is going to do if they consider us breaking the law.’ And I get that too,” she said.

The worst case scenario, she says, is that nothing will happen until the next legislative session starts, other than what the CJTC has the power of doing, which Alexander recognizes may not be enough to provide confidence for law enforcement officers.

“Rest assured, there are conversations about this every single day and trying to figure out what we can do because no one wants to put anyone in harm’s way, and we have to figure out a way for public safety to move forward together,” she said. “I think us getting divided and being frustrated with one another isn’t going to solve our problems.”

“But I want to work with every law enforcement agency out there. I want to work with our AG. I want to work with the prime sponsor of the bill, as well as other legislators, because it’s going to take all of us to fix this,” she continued. “And I’m not saying that the problem is that ginormous, it’s just session is not in and that is where the problem comes in.”

Washington lawmaker: New policing laws ‘a bump in the road, not a crisis’

Alexander also pointed out that de-escalation is not anything new and has been taught at the academy for many years now.

“What I see with some of these laws is telling us to slow the pace down, using the shielding, using your distance, and that’s going to give you time,” she said. “What that’s going to do is give you time to make better decisions.”

That said, she again made it clear that she agrees there are issues that need to be addressed with the new laws in Washington.

“Because between HB 1310 and HB 1054, we have offered some confusion. And then when you throw SB 5051 on top of that, people think they’re going to lose their career, that instills fear,” she said. “So we have got to address those things and I want to do it as soon as possible. Like I said, CJTC only has so much that they can do without the work of the Legislature.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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