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Monday, January 24, 2022

House Democrats Introduce Bills To Provide Clarity To Police Accountability Laws

Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-30

OLYMPIA – House Democrats introduced a pair of bills last week to clarify portions of the historic police accountability package passed by the Legislature last year. Legislators passed a package of laws designed to establish clear expectations for officer behavior; to set a baseline for the acceptable use of force, tactics, and equipment; and to put systems of accountability and transparency into place. Like many major changes, there have been challenges in the implementation of these laws.

Some law enforcement agencies contend that the new use of force standard prevents them from assisting designated crisis responders and mental and behavioral health specialists with involuntary treatments and other community caretaking functions. Regrettably, this has caused some law enforcement agencies to stop responding to community caretaking calls altogether.

HB 1735 sponsored by Reps. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) and Alicia Rule (D-Blaine) clarifies that officers can use force, subject to the newly established reasonable care standard, in behavioral health circumstances, for involuntary treatment commitments, in instances of child welfare, and other related circumstances.

“I have been extremely concerned about reports of designated crisis responders either not being able to respond to a mental health crisis or responding without police assistance,” said Rule. “While in many cases an unarmed response is preferable to a police response, our designated crisis responders are often entering volatile situations and depend on law enforcement for their safety. HB 1735 will clarify that officers can assist designated crisis responders and ensure that people having a mental health crisis can get the help and treatment that they need.”

Some law enforcement agencies also contend that the prohibition on firearms over .50 caliber has inadvertently banned the use of less-lethal munitions launchers and beanbag rounds for shotguns. While many agencies have recognized the intent of the legislation was to encourage the use of less-lethal force and continued to use less-lethal alternatives, many agencies have discontinued their use. HB 1719, sponsored by Rep. Dan Bronoske (D-Lakewood), clarifies that the prohibition of .50 caliber weapons only applies to rifles and not shotguns or less-lethal munitions launchers.

“The Legislature never intended to ban less-lethal alternatives to deadly force,” said Bronoske. “This bill will eliminate any ambiguity in the statute and ensure that our law enforcement professionals have all of the tools necessary to do their job.”

“Since the implementation of our police accountability package, Rep. Roger Goodman, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, and I have met with law enforcement leaders as well as rank and file officers from across the state to learn how these laws are being implemented and to ensure that law enforcement has the clarity necessary to do their jobs,” said Johnson. “We have also met extensively with designated crisis responders, mental and behavioral health professionals, firefighters, EMTS, and cities to see how their work has been impacted. We believe these bills will provide the certainty that our officers need to do their job and prioritize de-escalation and less-lethal alternatives to deadly force.”

“We appreciate the Legislature’s willingness to revisit these important questions and allow us to continue our collaborative engagement with a broad range of interested stakeholders,” said Marco Monteblanco, president of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police. “Both House Bill 1719 and 1735 will clarify legislation that was enacted last year, and we believe they will make clear that peace officers can do their jobs safely and protect their communities with confidence that their actions comply with the law.”

“We fought hard for HB 1310 and HB 1054, led by our impacted families, to reduce unnecessary violence and address discriminatory policing. We support these two bills because they clarify the intention and purpose of the original legislation and eliminate any ambiguity as to how these new laws should be implemented by law enforcement. This continues the work to make communities safer,” said the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability.

“Designated crisis responders across the state have had significant concerns regarding the drastic changes in our ability to safely assess and assist individuals with acute behavioral health needs in the community. The prolonged deterioration and increased incarceration of vulnerable individuals has been heartbreaking, harmful, and fatal in some situations. The Washington Association of Designated Crisis Responders greatly values our working relationships with law enforcement agencies and very much appreciates the opportunity to work with Reps. Johnson and Goodman on this clarifying legislation. We look forward to further developing partnerships with law enforcement and emergency medical services to provide the most appropriate outreach to individuals in behavioral health crisis,” said Jessica Shook, President of Washington Association of Designated Crisis Responders (WADCR).

“AWC appreciates the ongoing efforts by Representative Johnson and Chair Goodman to provide certainty and clarity to our law enforcement community, said Sharon Swanson, Government Relations Advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. “Cities thank the legislators for their engagement and willingness to work to find compromise.”

Both bills will be heard in the House Public Safety Committee earlier this week.

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