Handful of police reform rollback bills take effect in Washington, others fall short

Mar 18, 2022, 1:06 PM | Updated: Mar 22, 2022, 8:04 am
downtown, police reform...
Police cars on scene of a crash and shooting Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Police Department)
(Photo courtesy of Seattle Police Department)

Washington lawmakers passed a handful of bills this session aimed at amending police reform legislation passed in 2021.

Lawmakers, reform advocates clash over next phase of state’s policing ‘fix’ bills

The first — HB 1719 — edited language in 2021 legislation that had limited the use of certain types of less lethal ammunition. Under the updated bill passed this session, departments are once again permitted to use and acquire weapons and ammunition for nonlethal weapons of .50 caliber or greater.

Also approved was HB 1735, which provides clarity for officers that they are indeed able to use force when assisting on mental health or Involuntary Treatment Act calls.

Perhaps most prominent, though, was HB 2037, which authorizes officers to use physical force “to protect against a criminal offense when there is probable cause that a person has committed or is committing” a crime, as well as in instances where someone is fleeing a “temporary investigative detention,” better known as a Terry stop. The bill also qualifies that by prohibiting the use of force during Terry stops where a person is complying with an officer.

This trio of fixes — signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in early March — was lauded by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) as a collection of “necessary adjustments.”

“For these bills, House and Senate members worked hard to find balanced and fair solutions to the unintended consequences of bills passed in 2021, and we are appreciative,” the WASPC said in a Thursday press release. “Governor Inslee also deserves recognition for quickly signing the laws so they took effect immediately.”

That said, other bills law enforcement groups pushed for this session fell short of passage in the Legislature, with the WASPC noting that it was “disappointed and concerned” by that outcome, particularly as it relates to a bill that would have provided more leeway for officers to engage in pursuits.

In practice, SB 5919 would have reduced the standard for a police pursuit down from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion,” but ultimately failed to garner enough support for a full vote before the end of the 2022 legislative session.

Battle over changes to state’s new police accountability laws heats up

“No one wants more pursuits, which are inherently dangerous, but current law has created an atmosphere of flouting the law even on simple traffic stops,” the WASPC said. “This atmosphere is, and will continue to be, unacceptable and dangerous to public safety. Fleeing in a vehicle should not be a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Conversely, police reform advocates have spoken out against this session’s policing bills, with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability claiming that the legislation represents “a huge step backwards on racial justice, on reducing police violence, and on police accountability.”

In the past, the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability has accused police in Washington of willfully misinterpreting the state’s recently-passed accountability laws, claiming last August that officers “have done everything in their efforts to undermine” the 2021 police reform bills since they were first implemented.

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Handful of police reform rollback bills take effect in Washington, others fall short