The following message is being sent on behalf of the following law enforcement executives from Thurston County:
In response to the events of the summer of 2020, the Washington State Legislature passed a series of police reform bills in the 2021 legislative session that change the role of police in our community and the way some law enforcement services are delivered. These are significant changes and will require ongoing coordination and training to fully implement them. We appreciate the community’s support as we work to respond to these new laws.
The majority of these bills go into effect July 25, 2021, followed by the others in 2022.
Police Chiefs from Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Tenino, Yelm, the Evergreen State College, and the Thurston County Sheriff collectively want to inform the community about the new laws and how police responses will be changing.
Law enforcement agencies across Thurston County are working diligently updating department policies and training personnel to ensure legislative compliance and consistent service response county-wide.
While there are 13 major house bills addressing police reform, three significantly impact police services to the community. They include House Bill (HB)1054 (Police Tactics), HB 1310 (Use of Force), and Senate Bill (SB) 5476 (Amends Controlled Substance Act), which went into effect on July 1, 2021.
HB 1054, the Police Tactics bill, prohibits chokeholds, neck restraints, the use of “military equipment” by police, restricts the use of tear gas, and limits police pursuits to very limited situations. The new law also significantly limits police pursuits of suspects. Officers will need probable cause to believe that a person in a fleeing vehicle has committed a specified violent crime before engaging in a pursuit. Since probable cause is a much higher standard than reasonable suspicion, the majority of police pursuits will be eliminated across the entire state.
Use of force
HB 1310 is referred to as the Use of Force bill. This legislation intends to reduce violent encounters between police and non-compliant members of the community, particularly when a crime has not been committed. The bill limits police use of force to very narrow circumstances and requires de-escalation tactics to be employed before any physical force is applied. All law enforcement agencies in Thurston County previously trained their officers and deputies to utilize de-escalation principles and continue to enforce this training.
Under this new bill, officers and deputies may, when necessary, use physical force when there is probable cause to make an arrest, to effect an arrest, to prevent an escape as defined under RCW9A.76, and to protect against bodily injury to an officer, to others or to the person force is being used against.
This bill will change how police respond to various calls. In most instances, police will no longer respond to “community care” situations where identifiable crimes have not been committed. Examples of “community care” situations include suicidal threats, drug overdoses, medical emergencies, welfare checks, public nuisances, and people suffering from mental illness or crisis. Instead, mental health professionals, fire and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel, and other specialized providers may be asked to respond to those requests. The Olympia Police Department will rely more heavily on its Crisis Response Unit to help fill this gap; however, this type of crisis response is not currently available County-wide. It is important to note that additional service gaps may occur since legislation was implemented before alternative services were established.
If community members call 911 to report “community care” emergencies, officers and deputies have been encouraged to make telephone contact, gather more information, and determine the proper response.
Senate Bill 5476 pertains to changes in the Uniformed Controlled Substance Act (drug possession). On February 25, 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court, declared Washington’s felony drug possession statute unconstitutional under the State v. Blake case. As a result, the legislature amended state law, preempting new local ordinances. People who are now found in possession of illicit drugs, including dangerous drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, and others, must be referred to drug-help resources on two separate occasions before criminal charges can be brought against them. Those with third and subsequent violations can be issued misdemeanor citations; however, the State law encourages prosecutors to divert cited cases for assessment, treatment, or other services.
There currently is not a state-wide system to track the number of drug referrals people receive. Law enforcement agencies across Thurston County are working to address this need and anticipate having something in place by the end of 2021.
The Police Chiefs and the Thurston County Sheriff are working closely together and with their legal counsels to address these legislative changes and are committed to providing consistent service throughout the region. Our desire is to continue providing exceptional public safety while building trusting relationships with the communities we serve.
The above was provided by Olympia Police Department.