Police use-of-force bill clears state House

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A bill that was cleared by the state House this weekend could affect changes made last year to some police reforms.

House Bill 2037, which passed with an 87-11 vote, changes some policies to the reforms.

“I definitely don’t think that the laws that were written last year was too much too soon by any stretch of the imagination,” said retired King County Sheriff John Urquhart.

When Washington lawmakers revamped the state’s police accountability laws last year, Urquhart was mostly supportive.

“Unfortunately, they were seriously flawed,” he said.

He said the new laws were too difficult to understand.

Those concerns were echoed by police departments statewide, raising questions among officers on what exactly was and was not allowed. It’s a major driving force behind House Bill 2037.

“The bill before us represents an effort from many months now responding to confusion and concern from the comprehensive package of bills we passed last year related to police-community relations and police activities. There have been some implementation obstacles and some unintended consequences,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).

The bipartisan bill passed that state House on Saturday and now awaits the Senate.

The bill clarifies when officers can use physical force, allowing the use of physical force when they are trying to detain someone from leaving a crime scene.

Those opposing the bill call the changes a betrayal. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA) said lawmakers are turning their backs on police reform laws. And if last year’s legislation was one step forward, they said this is two steps back.

“In 2022, it is not OK to go back on your promises,” said Katrina Johnson with WCPA and a cousin of Charleena Lyles.

Lyles was a pregnant mother of four who was fatally shot in 2017 after calling Seattle police to report a burglary at her apartment. Officers said that when they arrived, Lyles lunged at them with a knife. Family members have insisted that Lyles had mental health problems and that police failed to de-escalate the situation before opening fire.

“I read the pursuit policies and it’s like they picked those up out of the sheriff’s office policies and dumped them into that state law. Almost verbatim, I guarantee it. Something we’ve done for twenty-some years,” Urquhart told KIRO 7.

Urquhart argues King County and Seattle are already ahead. He said last year’s legislation was incredibly similar to rules Seattle-area officers and deputies already follow, including a non-chase policy for most non-violent crimes.

He believes the issues need to be fixed from within departments statewide.

“Police departments should do these things themselves, and some have and many, many, many haven’t. That’s why the legislator stepped in,” Urquhart said.

Urquhart said he supports the House bill, which keeps many of the reforms that were passed last year when it comes to use-of-force. He also said the clarification and modifications will turn the page on police reform and help keep the public safe.