The following contains editorial content which is the opinion of the author.
OLYMPIA, WA- As usually happens, a knee-jerk response to the George Floyd death last May has turned into a cluster you-know-what for police in Washington State. Just a week after the new “police reform” bill went into effect, police in the state are already dealing with the unintended (or perhaps they were intended) consequences of the Democrat-led bill.
The move to “reimagine” policing in Washington was led by activists who clearly are anti-law enforcement, and complicit left-wing Democrats in the state legislature. What exactly did the Washington Democrats do?
As Jason Rantz said in an opinion piece in The Federalist, the changes are numerous.
“Police use of force is now strictly limited. Car chases and tear gas are almost entirely banned. Chokeholds are now forbidden, requiring officers to use more lethal tools at their disposal. Some bills even conflict with others.”
Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla didn’t pull any punches in addressing the new bill.
“The challenge is—I’m going to be very frank—the laws were written very poorly, and the combination of them all at the same time has led to there being conflicts in clarity and in what was intended versus what was written,” he told ABC News.
Under the bill, HB 1310, there are only three situations under which police officers are permitted to use force. Perhaps the most ludicrous of the requirements is that force may only be used when probable cause exists to make an arrest.
Prior to the enactment of this bill, the standard was reasonable suspicion. For those who do not understand the difference, reasonable suspicion is a standard where there may not be sufficient evidence or facts and circumstances to make an arrest, but the officer has a reasonable belief that a crime may have been committed.
Probable cause requires a higher bar to be reached. The typical standard is, “Facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable and prudent person to believe that a crime has occurred or is about to occur and that the person in question committed or was about to commit a crime.”
It requires more than mere suspicion; it must be backed up by some type of evidence.
In the case of HB 1310, the only time police can now use force to make an arrest is:
“Make an arrest, prevent an escape, or protect against imminent threat to bodily injury to the peace officer, another person, another person, or the person against whom force is being used.”
Another act passed which significantly restricts officers is HB 1054, which addresses police pursuits. Under this measure, police are not allowed to pursue a vehicle unless there’s probable cause to believe that the suspect “committed or is committing a violent offense or sex offense.” [emphasis added]
In other words, if police see a car with a driver matching the description of a bank robbery suspect, they would be prohibited from pursuing or making an arrest because probably cause didn’t yet exist.
There’s more—the suspect has to pose an imminent threat at the time, the pursuit must be necessary to apprehend the suspect, and the officer has to have a supervisor’s approval. [emphasis added] An officer must check off all three boxes before the suspect can take off not to be seen again anytime soon.
In a state such as Washington, some smaller departments may not have a supervisor directly and immediately available to clear a pursuit. So basically that takes those departments automatically out of the equation.
This law has already had a negative impact on police and public safety in the state, as Law Enforcement Today reported last month. This involves the case of a man who was discharged from a hospital for the mentally disabled, while wearing a yellow dress, who stole a school bus. He was contacted by sheriff’s deputies; however they couldn’t pursue him due to the new law.
Why not? Because they only had at that time reasonable suspicion that he stole the bus, not probable cause. So in this case, deputies broke off the pursuit. An hour or two later, the same suspect stole a front loader and smashed it into the home of his estranged wife, flipping a car onto the structure.
The new law also will have a significant impact on how police interact with mental health or drug crisis situations. In some cases, officers have been put in the position of having to use force in order to take people into custody for involuntary commitments in order to remove people from the streets before they hurt themselves or others.
Under the new law, this is no longer the case. Since officers do not have probable cause to make an arrest, they no longer can use force. Rantz cites an example of someone “running around partially naked and causing a scene.” Since that is not a crime, and if the person wasn’t armed with a weapon, there isn’t imminent harm to anyone. Officers have their hands tied.
Think that couldn’t happen? Think again. Exactly such an incident occurred in the city of Sedro-Wooley. Two incidents involving the same suspect occurred within hours of each other, however officers couldn’t do anything because the man had not committed a crime. They would only be able to intercede after he committed such a crime or got his hands on a weapon.
Rantz noted that police chiefs and sheriffs throughout the state have been raising the alarm about such incidents and have indicated they will no longer have officers respond to certain calls.
Washington State lawmakers may pat themselves on the back for “doing something” to rein in those “nasty” cops, however what they have done is make the job of police extremely complicated, making communities less safe, and putting residents in the position of not having their safety taken care of.
These two laws are not the only ones tying the hands of cops, and may increase, not decrease injuries to suspects.
For example, HB 1054 restricts police use of certain weapons, with Democrats using caliber size as their criteria for deployment of certain weapons. Their intent was to prohibit police from using so-called “military equipment” weapons that were already not being used by police.
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However they picked a number out of the air—“.50 caliber or greater” as their measure of what constituted a “military” weapon. Unfortunately, such a prohibition bans police use of less than lethal beanbag guns, removing an option for officers short of deadly force.
Predictably, the sponsor of the bill said the intent wasn’t to ban such non-lethal weapons and told ABC News he expects the Washington attorney general will clarify the intent officially.
Moreover as Rantz notes, given the anti-police sentiment in the Washington state legislature as well as in leftist-controlled cities such as Seattle, officers will be hesitant to risk losing their certification (or worse) if they act in contradiction to the new law.
Where the new laws will have a significant impact is police response to riots. Bean bag guns can be useful in limited circumstances to a riot. Tear gas (obviously) is also a good option however the new law significantly ties the hands of law enforcement in their ability to deploy gas.
While they are still permitted to use tear gas to address riots, barricaded suspects, or in a hostage situation, police must first “exhaust alternatives to the use of tear gas that are available and appropriate under the circumstances.”
In your typical George Floyd-style riot, officers are forced to comply with (probably deliberate) vague mandates, including “whether the present circumstances warrant the use of tear gas” and allowing “sufficient time and space for the subject or subjects to comply with the officer’s or employee’s directives.”
The vagueness of that requirement cannot be ignored. Who determines what “sufficient time and space” is? It’s not defined. As Rantz notes, most of the crazy people in Seattle want to completely ban the use of tear gas by police. Their definition of “sufficient time and space” is likely much different and a lot more liberal than what the police definition is.
What’s more, the law directs police departments to get authorization “from the highest elected official in the jurisdiction before using tear gas in these circumstances,” Rantz said.
Can you imagine trying to get a political hack such as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to agree to tear gas her radical constituent base? Any other elected mayor, county executive, or God forbid Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, another political hack?
Why wouldn’t you rely on an elected sheriff or a police chief, who actually have law enforcement experience? Would a leftist official who supports banning the use of tear gas or other less lethal uses of force actually grant permission to use any of these devices? That gives police two options—impact weapons or their firearms. That’s it.
While some politicians claim the law will be “clarified,” that likely won’t take place until the middle of 2022. In the meantime, the police “reform” laws are already in effect.
In an interview on Rantz’s talk show on KTTH Radio, Seattle Police Interim Chief Adrian Diaz spoke to the angst and concern among officers over the new measure.
“There’s a lot of angst [from] an officer’s perspective in that we don’t have a model policy, and now we’re asked to go out and still do our best with trying to understand what the legislation is asking of us. And if we don’t do it right, we potentially could be decertified,” he said.
The timing of the new law which handcuffs Washington law enforcement officials is extremely poor. Statistics show that Washington saw a 47 percent spike in homicides last year, almost double the national average.
In Seattle, the city is poised to bypass last year’s 26-year homicide rate record, with Tacoma seeing similar results. Meanwhile in the eastern portion of the state, Spokane has seen 12 drive-by shootings and 44 other shootings this year, and that was only through the month of May.
As far as Washington state Democrats are concerned, it’s not a big deal, Rantz says. The leftist who authored the bills engaged in a classic case of gaslighting tries to blame police for the violence that overtook the state last year, continuing into this year.
“We have to create new policies because what we were doing before was not working,” said State Rep. Jesse Johnson to ABC News. “What we wanted to do with these bills is set an expectation that officers deescalate and that there’s less lethal enforcement of the law. A lot of the pushback we’re getting is because it’s a paradigm shift.” [emphasis added]
No, a lot of the pushback you’re getting is because you’re clueless and refuse to admit this series of measures were ill-conceived, and as Rantz notes make policing less effective, and more dangerous fore everyone involved.
These measures are the result of a kneejerk reaction to the Floyd case, while exploiting the defund movement that exploded afterward. Johnson and his ilk, who think they know better than people with law enforcement backgrounds enacted a bunch of feel-good garbage legislation intended to pacify the anti-police mob. When these measures fail—and they will—it will be interesting to see Johnson and crew try to gaslight and blame someone else for their incompetence.
In closing, Rantz summarized it perfectly:
“Democrats’ goal was to dismantle and reimagine the police. And that’s exactly what they did. Now we wait for its deadly consequences.”
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