(The following article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of iFIBER ONE News, iFIBER Communications, or it’s staff)
In 2021, our State Legislature enacted several bills related to law enforcement. Most of the police reform bills go into effect on July 25, 2021, affecting how we will deliver police services. As your elected Sheriff, it is my responsibility to make sure the residents we serve are aware of the level of service that law enforcement can provide under the new laws. To get the agency prepared for these changes, the department is providing mandatory training to all commissioned and limited-commissioned personnel, particularly focusing on legislated bills 1310 (Use of Force), and 1054 (Police Tactics).
House Bill 1310 changed when an officer in Washington can use force. The current standard is called the “reasonable officer standard” and use of force was determined to be lawful if under the totality of the circumstances, it was objectively reasonable. Under the new law, a deputy sheriff in Washington can use force under only three affirmative circumstances: (1) when probable cause exists or to make an arrest; (2) to prevent escape (a legal term, not just someone running away); or (3) to protect against imminent threat of bodily injury to a person.
The legislature changed the threshold of when we can use force to “probable cause” instead of “reasonable suspicion.” For example, under the current law, if a man was to break into your shop, you confront him and he runs away, and you call 911 to provide a detailed description, it has always been considered reasonable that if a law enforcement officer arrived in the area and saw a suspect matching this description, we had the legal authority to stop him. If he ran, we were allowed to use reasonable force to chase him and detain him. This would be allowed under the current “reasonable suspicion” threshold. Effective July 25th, under HB 1310, we are no longer allowed to use force, even if he is running from the deputy, until probable cause is established.
In another example, deputy sheriffs were legally authorized to detain someone suffering from a crisis and get them to help at a medical facility. Moving forward under the new law, deputies can no longer detain a person simply for the purposes of involuntary treatment. Sadly, there may be times deputies will have to walk
away from the situation. With this law, the legislature signaled its intent to have more behavioral health intervention as opposed to law enforcement response. I fully support our behavioral health partners, but I do not believe they are sufficiently staffed to respond, nor properly equipped to deal with people who have may have a propensity towards violence or actively acting out. It’s just not as safe without law enforcement protection.
Meanwhile, House Bill 1054 changed certain tactics deputies can use to de-escalate and make arrests, and one of those tactics is police pursuits. The new law virtually eliminates all police vehicle pursuits. Moving forward, deputies must have “probable cause” to believe a person in the fleeing vehicle has committed a specific violent crime. This is a very high standard and nearly impossible to meet.
Below is a list of House Bills that were passed into law that directly affects law enforcement. As your Sheriff I strongly encourage that you familiarize yourself with them to fully understand the new magnitude we are working under:
· HB 1054 Peace Officer Tactics
· HB 1140 Juvenile Access to Attorneys
· HB 1223 Recordation of Custodial Interrogation
· HB 1267 Office of Independent Investigations
· HB 1310 Permissible Uses of Force
· HB 5051 State Oversight
· HB 5066 Duty to Intervene
· State v. Blake (Possession of controlled substance).
These new laws can be found at the following link: https://leg.wa.gov/
I believe these laws will have negative and long-lasting consequences for the residents of our great county. As our office adjusts to the new ways of providing police services, know that our deputies will still be accountable to the citizens we serve. Please know that the men and women of this office are the best of the best. We will continue to respond to calls, but regrettably, in many cases, it will look different.
Thank you in advance for your patience as we work through this, too. It always has been and remains an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Grant County.
Sheriff Tom Jones