OLYMPIA, Wash. — Lawmakers are taking steps to roll back sweeping police reform measures that just became law last year.
The House Public Safety Committee passed two bills Thursday that would make it easier for police to start a high-speed chase or use force in certain situations.
The changes brought out protestors once again to the state’s capitol.
“Unfortunately, not even seven months after its enactment, legislators at this very moment are working to roll back the reform that have already led to less police violence. This is unacceptable,” said Trishandra Pickup with the Washington State Coalition on Police Accountability (WSCPA). The father of her children, Stonechild Chiefstick, was killed by Poulsbo Police in 2019.
“In 2022, it is not OK to go back on your promises that you made to impacted families,” said Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Charleena Lyles, who was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2017. Johnson is also with the WSCPA.
They oppose two House bills that take steps toward rolling back some police reforms passed last year.
House Bill 1788 concerns vehicle pursuits.
One change drops the requirement for an officer to first get authorization from a supervisor before giving chase in a violent crime. Instead, it just requires notification.
House Bill 2037 changes when officers can use force in certain situations.
“It’s a bill that really seeks to balance the need to reduce needless force by law enforcement, and yet give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent criminal suspects from fleeing when they’re detaining them for questioning,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), an original sponsor of the bill.
But people who oppose the rollbacks say the major police reforms that took effect last year were hugely successful.
“There was a 60% decline in the number of people killed by police in Washington state last year,” said Martina Morris, a retired statistics and sociology professor with the University of Washington.
The Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” database shows 13 people were killed by police in Washington in 2021, compared to more than 32 in 2021 and 36 in 2020.
Many law enforcement agencies, including the Washington State Sheriff’s Association, which involves all 39 counties, believe the changes also brought harm by interfering with the ability for police to do their jobs.
“What we’ve seen when they changed it and minimized what we’re allowed to chase, the criminals also know what we’re allowed to do or not do. And it’s basically taken the teeth out of the law we already have,” said Sgt. Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Moss said deputies haven’t been able to pursue felony property crimes like stolen vehicles — one crime that’s more than doubled in Pierce County.
“They don’t use that car to go to work tomorrow, they use that car to commit a crime. Burglaries, robberies, theft and violent crimes,” Moss said. “Those are the kinds of things that frustrate law enforcement,” he said.
“Does it lower our use of force and lower our pursuits? It does. Because we say ‘Hey, we’re not going to chase these anymore,’” Moss said.
Goodman said on Thursday that several more tweaks were likely before the bills are voted on before the full state legislature in March.
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