The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the Washington State legislature is paving that road quickly.
Recent policing reforms went into effect this past Sunday, changing the way law enforcement in the Evergreen State goes about pursuing and apprehending criminal suspects. While legislators defend the reforms as a necessary change in mindset and practice, the unfolding reality is already alarming.
Take, for instance, a scenario in Puyallup on Wednesday, in which officers could not pursue a murder suspect because they did not have probable cause (a much higher threshold required by the new laws).
Or, perhaps, a story from Snohomish County on Thursday morning: A suspect matching the description of a reported theft and hate crime was allowed to flee when an officer attempted to pull him over because, under the new law, there was insufficient probable cause to engage in a pursuit.
While Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) told Dori Monson that these new changes will have “minimal effect” and are only a “bump in the road” and not a crisis, law enforcement officials have voiced otherwise:
Federal Way Chief of Police Andy J. Hwang
The enacted new requirements and explicit restrictions will virtually eliminate all police pursuits in Washington State. Moving forward, officers must have “probable cause” to believe that a person in the fleeing vehicle has committed a specified violent crime, which is a very high standard and nearly impossible to meet while responding to a 911 emergency call for help. An officer responding to the scene of a robbery or shooting may see a fleeing suspect vehicle and may have “reasonable suspicion,” but cannot pursue it because probable cause is not usually developed in the initial phase of an incident which means more suspects will get away.(You can read his full post on Facebook here.)
Bonney Lake Police Chief Bryan Jeter
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) attempted to inform the authors of the legislation of the potential negative impacts to the safety of our communities due to the unanswered questions but the concerns fell on deaf ears. WASPC has also requested that the Attorney General review and give guidance on ambiguous language in the legislation.
This well-meaning legislation does not take into account the victims of crime or those tasked with enforcing the laws in spite of the increase in violent crime across the state.(You can read his full post on Facebook here.)
Everett Police Department Chief Dan Templeman
Let me first start by saying that I am in no way ‘anti-change’ or unwilling to acknowledge that our profession has been tainted by the reckless and, in some cases, criminal acts of police officers. While I recognize this occurs, it is the exception. The vast majority of police officers nationwide, and here locally, serve our communities with honor, professionalism and integrity.
But these new laws will indeed have an impact on police response to certain calls. As a result, some in our community will need to reset their expectations of local law enforcement.(You can read his full post on Facebook here.)
Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs (WASPC)
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. However, we owe it to the public we serve to be candid and share that we 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…(You can read the WASPC full statement here.)
An officer with the Washington State Patrol wrote anonymously at Family Policy Institute of Washington
Mental health crisis or medical issue? The police will not be responding. Child runaways who don’t give permission to an officer to take them back to their parents? Gotta let them go.
Suicidal person on an overpass? Not a crime – this will be classified as a mental health issue and police will not respond (until after they jump and are killed or hit by a car)….
Did someone else’s car collide with yours, and did the driver flee the scene? Well, that’s not a BARRK (Burglary, Arson, Rape, Robbery, and Kidnapping) felony so we can’t pursue….(You can read the full article at Family Policy Institute of Washington here.)
Washington State legislators are assuring the public that they are working on definitions and clarifications to be released next July. In the year-long interim until then, law enforcement and innocent citizens must go without protections that make for a safe and just society.