Olympia police chief provides new guidelines for policing, will no longer respond to suicide threats, drug overdoses

Discussion focused on changes imposed by House Bill 1310

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Interim Police Chief Aaron Jelcick provided a detailed presentation on the new law created by House Bill 1310 during the Ad Hoc Public Safety Committee meeting yesterday. The new law aims to address issues regarding the use of excessive force, as well discriminatory policingand will take effect this Sunday,  July 25.

 Reasonable care

During the discussion, the interim police chief claimed that officers have a duty to observe what the law calls “reasonable care” when they respond to calls. Reasonable care provides that an officer must exhaust all available de-escalation tactics before resorting to use of physical force. 

To determine the right response, an officer must consider several factors including time, and physical distance. They must also consider individual factors such as pregnancy, age, signs of mental or behavioral issues, cognitive impairments as a result of substance use, suicidal tendencies, English proficiency and the presence of children.

When to respond?

Under HB 1310, officers cannot respond to cases relating to drug use, as well as health and behavioral issues such as overdose, psychiatric complications, diabetic emergencies, welfare checks, reports of public nuisance, excited delirium, and even cases of suicidal threats unless the danger is imminent (for example, a person attempting to jump off of a bridge.)

Jelcick said, “we have traditionally been the catch-all, law enforcement has been that default.” With HB 1310, legislators aim to provide different types of responses for each case.

The police chief also admitted that at times, police officers are not the best category of responder in certain situations, especially in cases involving people in crisis. He noted that at times, the presence of uniformed personnel may trigger or cause additional stress to the individual.

Whenever necessary, an officer must also seek additional help, whether it might be for back-up, crisis intervention, or the need for a medical professional.

There may also be instances when there are as many as five police officers responding to one case. The number of personnel may be necessary to implement several de-escalation tactics especially in cases involving assault calls or domestic violence.

Use of force

Jelcick explained that, under the new law,  an officer can use physical force only if there is probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause means facts and circumstances which would lead an officer to believe that a crime has been committed. He noted that an officer may use physical force under the following circumstances; when they have probable cause to make an arrest, to prevent an escape, and to protect an officer or a person that is being threatened with bodily harm. For instance, an officer needs to have a clear, probable cause to arrest someone, and not merely on suspicious belief.

In cases where an officer has a suspicious belief that a person is responsible for the crime, and that they need to conduct further investigation, the officer must obtain a person’s consent before they can pat them down. If the person refuses to do so, then the authorities need to release the individual, unless they have a clear, probable cause for arrest.

Deadly force

Under HB 1310, deadly force may only be used under “imminent threat.” This means that officers must be able to justify that there is an objective reasonable belief that a person has an intent to cause death or serious physical injury. The use of force must be also “reasonable” and “proportional” to the threat.

Disciplinary implications

Jelcick explained that previously, an officer may only be held legally liable if they violated a law. However, under the new legislation, department policies are now considered as a sufficient ground for dismissal, or determining civil or legal liability. With the new challenges brought by the changes in policing guidelines, the interim chief assured the public that they are conducting regular training to help police officers in navigating these situations.

Ultimately, he shared that the legislation wanted to ensure that “the right people (should be) responding to the right calls.”

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