The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs which include our local police chiefs and Sheriff Rick Scott put out a press statement on July 22nd in regard to the new "police reform legislation" that goes into effect July 25th. The statement says that Washington’s law enforcement agencies are not de-policing but, Adapting, reforming and reimagining the public service of law enforcement. They raise concerns, that they are deeply concerned that some policing reforms may have unintended outcomes that result in increased levels of confusion, frustration, victimization, and increased crime within our communities.
On the whole, WASPC anticipates that the policing reforms may have the positive impact of reducing the number of violent interactions between law enforcement and the public which is the intended purpose of the legislation.
Several local agencies have been voicing concerns over the changes that are coming to include the Elma Police Department who gave an example of what the use of force legislation has done to tie their hands assisting persons not trained in any use of force in dealing with combative persons - if someone is suffering from a mental health episode (and is perhaps suicidal), unless there is an associated crime, we will be forced to walk away. Assisting the fire department in restraining a combative person, during a mental health crisis, was once common practice. Those tactics will now be illegal, and their use may subject an officer to prosecution and liability. This puts fire and EMS personnel in more danger as they cannot longer get assistance from those trained to deal with combative persons.
WASPC says this forces the reliance on other systems (fire/EMS, behavioral health, chemical dependency, social services, etc.), some of which are not yet fully developed or are underfunded, along with changes to the use of force law will restrict proactive enforcement, the ability to detain, and the scope of police response.
Each independent agency makes its own policy decisions; however, some legislative reform measures changed what have historically been local decisions. Some of these changes include:
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.
Many less-lethal weapons commonly used as an alternative to the use of deadly force are considered “military equipment” under the new law and their use may be prohibited.
Pursuit policies are now strictly limited, and pursuits are categorically prohibited for most criminal offenses. There is a concern that this could increase reckless driving, traffic fatalities, and the apprehension of fewer suspects.
Nearly all juvenile contacts must be made through legal counsel. This will impact all investigations involving juveniles.
Release and furloughs of incarcerated persons will continue.
The number of available officers and deputies may continue to decline with increasing retirements and recruiting challenges.
There have been significant changes in enforcement and prosecution of drug crimes due to the state Supreme Court decision (Blake vs Washington State) and legislation enacted following the Court’s decision.
WASPC has advocated for the goals of many of the reforms, while raising concerns about the specific language and outcomes of certain elements of the new laws. See WASPC’s proposed law enforcement reforms webpage at www.waspc.org/reforms, and a one page document summarizing those reforms here. See examples of WASPC’s support of the goals of reform legislation while raising concerns about their specifics here.WASPC has advocated for the goals of many of the reforms, while raising concerns about the specific language and outcomes of certain elements of the new laws.