OLYMPIA - A House police reform bill would drastically limit how police patrol K9s can be used in Washington.
A state legislative committee heard testimony on Tuesday on House Bill 1054, which would ban a range of police tactics, including prohibiting law enforcement from using unleashed police dogs to arrest or apprehend suspects.
Moses Lake police officer Nick Stewart, a K9 handler for the department, has sent a letter to state lawmakers, says taking away law enforcement’s ability to use K9s to their full potential a disservice “to the communities in which we serve.”
“Over my almost three years as a K9 handler I’ve seen how the presence of K9s has prevented us from having to use force on many occasions,” Stewart wrote. “Believe it or not these dogs are de-escalation tools, asking any K9 handler or officers who have seen these dogs at work. Unfortunately, there has been a large amount of misinformation spread about the use of these K9s and the number of applications in which a bite actually occurs. I would challenge and encourage anyone who questions the use of these dogs to come out to any local training and understand the capabilities of these dogs as well as when they can be deployed.”
In his letter, Stewart also addressed the Feb. 28, 2020 incident where now retired K9 Chief was shot by a fleeing suspect. Stewart returned fire, killing the suspect.
“Chief was a special dog from the day I brought him home,” Stewart wrote. Chief was the very first police dog the Moses Lake Police Department had ever had. I always knew they kept us safe, but it wasn’t until that horrific night of Feb. 28 that I saw firsthand what these amazing dogs can do for us.”
"Due to amazing teamwork from a variety of individuals, Chief is alive with me today living a very comfortable retired life,” Stewart continued. I am certain because of Chief’s presence that evening that I am still alive to talk about it today. Considering the subject’s firearm was cocked and ready to fire another round before he was neutralized, it’s safe to say his intent to continue shooting was obvious. There is no doubt in my mind that the bullet which struck Chief was intended for me.”
Stewart said if he had to stop and put a leash on Chief as the suspect was fleeing, it would have “provided ample time for him to take aim at myself or other officers.”
“Also, if I was stopped to put a leash on Chief, once shots rang out officers would have to take cover,” Stewart wrote. “During this time, it would provide the opportunity for the suspect to flee and potentially evade arrest and continue to put our community in danger. Individuals like this have shown how dangerous they are to not only police but the general public we are sworn to protect. Taking away our ability in Washington state to use patrol/apprehension dogs is a grave injustice and disservice to law enforcement. I have no doubt in my mind you will see an increase in the application of higher levels of force, officer involved shootings and officers being injured. Without Chief by my side on the evening of Feb. 28, 2020, there is a high likelihood I would not be typing this letter right now.”
The House bill aimed at police reform, if passed, would also ban chokeholds and neck restraints, use of tear gas and certain types of military equipment, and “no-knock” warrants. Republicans on the public safety committee raised concerns about taking tools out of the hands of law enforcement and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) say members are open to discuss changes, but the bill goes too far.
“The language contained in House Bill 1054…creates unacceptable consequences and unreasonably places members of the public and law enforcement in unnecessary danger," WASPC officials said.