Washington state just reimagined policing with sweeping so-called “police accountability” bills that went into effect this week. Led by anti-police activists enabled by allies in the Democrat-controlled legislature, the consequences of these dramatic changes will be worse than you can imagine. And Democrats don’t seem to care.
Police use of force is now strictly limited. Car chases and tear gas are almost entirely banned. Chokeholds are now forbidden, requiring officers to use more lethal tools at their disposal. Some bills even conflict with others.
“The challenge is — I’m going to be very frank — the laws were written very poorly, and the combination of them all at the same time has led to there being conflicts in clarity and in what was intended versus what was written,” Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla told ABC News.
New Restrictions on Use of Force and Vehicle Pursuit
HB 1310 dictates only three scenarios where officers may use force. The most significant shift mandates officers can only use force when “probable cause” exists for an arrest.
Before the changes, “reasonable suspicion” was the standard. That is, police lack concrete evidence for an arrest but there is a reasonable suspicion to temporarily detain the suspect because officers think they committed a crime. The bar for probable cause is much higher because it requires some kind of concrete evidence (eyewitness affirmation, a confession, discovery of a warrant if the suspect gives his name, etc.).
The instances when police can use force are now to make an arrest, prevent an escape, or protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used.
HB 1054 severely restricts vehicle pursuits. Police cannot pursue suspects in vehicles unless there’s probable cause to believe that the suspect “committed or is committing a violent offense or sex offense.” That means if officers spot a car with a driver matching the description of a bank robbery suspect, they wouldn’t be able to pursue or make an arrest. There’s no probable cause yet.
That’s not all. The suspect must pose an imminent threat at the time, the pursuit must be necessary to apprehend the suspect, and the officer has to have a supervisor’s approval. Imagine checking off all those boxes before the suspect drives away and escapes.
Police Hesitate to Engage with the Mentally Ill
There have already been real-world consequences. In Chelan County, a man in a yellow dress who had just been discharged from a mental hospital allegedly stole a bus. Sheriff’s deputies made contact with the man, but he refused to pull over.
Police had reasonable suspicion that the man stole the bus, but that wouldn’t satisfy the higher bar for probable cause. So the deputies stopped their pursuit. Hours later, the man was accused of driving heavy construction equipment into the home of his estranged wife.
These new rules also affect the way police assist in mental health or drug crisis calls. Sometimes, officers have to use force during involuntary commitments that get people off the streets before they hurt themselves or others.
But probable cause wouldn’t exist for an arrest: running around partially naked and causing a scene isn’t a crime. And unless that person has a weapon in his hand, there’s no imminent threat.
This exact scenario occurred in the city of Sedro-Wooley. Officers responded to two calls within hours of each other but didn’t do anything because they interpreted the law to prohibit them from laying a hand on the man in crisis. They could only get involved after a suspect committed a crime or if the suspect acquired a weapon.
It’s easy to see why police chiefs and sheriffs are sounding the alarm. It’s why some have flatly said they will no longer respond to specific calls.
Ban on Other Weapons Makes Firearm Use More Likely
Not only do these laws make police officers’ jobs nearly impossible, they also make communities less safe. And residents have reasonable expectations that police will handle these incidents when they call 9-1-1 to report them.
Other new laws make the work of the police more dangerous. They will likely lead to more suspects being injured — the exact opposite of what Democrats said they intended.
HB 1054 prohibits police from using certain weapons. Democrats based their ban on caliber size, intending to stop police from using “military equipment” weapons that they didn’t even use. They defined the military equipment as “.50 caliber or greater.” By the letter of the law, this bans non-lethal bean bag guns, which would force officers to use more lethal tools like their firearms.
The bill’s sponsor claims the intent wasn’t to ban the non-lethal weapons and told ABC News that he expects the state’s attorney general to clarify the intent officially. Until then, given the anti-police sentiment in the legislature and leftist-controlled cities, officers are reticent to risk losing their certification in case it does contradict the new law.
In circumstances like a riot, a bean bag gun can come in handy. Police might also use tear gas to disperse violent crowds, but that has been seemingly banned too. Law enforcement agencies can still use tear gas to address a riot, barricaded subject, or a hostage situation. But before deploying this tool, they must first “exhaust alternatives to the use of tear gas that are available and appropriate under the circumstances.”
But during a riot outside of a prison – such as the one that occurred in downtown Seattle after the George Floyd death – officers must adhere to vague mandates like “whether the present circumstances warrant the use of tear gas” and allowing “sufficient time and space for the subject or subjects to comply with the officer’s or employee’s directives.”
In Seattle especially, activists want to ban the use of tear gas entirely, so they never deem circumstances warrant its use. And how do officers determine if sufficient time has passed before deploying the tear gas? Before or after a third building is ransacked or set ablaze?
More worrisome and controversial is that the law mandates agencies seek authorization from the highest elected official in the jurisdiction before using tear gas in these circumstances.
Depending on the agency and jurisdiction, that could mean a mayor, county executive, or governor – although not an elected sheriff or an appointed police chief, who actually have law enforcement expertise. In this scenario, you may end up seeking permission from a leftist official who supports the ban on the non-lethal tool. Without tear gas, officers just go into a riotous crowd with their lethal weapons. That puts everyone at risk.
Unclear Laws Won’t Be Clarified Soon
What’s worse, the laws reimagining policing are currently in effect. But the mandated model policy that would help clarify the intent of some of the laws isn’t due until mid-2022.
“There’s a lot of angst [from] an officer’s perspective in that we don’t have a model policy, and now we’re asked to go out and still do our best with trying to understand what the legislation is asking of us. And if we don’t do it right, we potentially could be decertified,” Seattle Police Interim Chief Adrian Diaz explained on my Seattle-based talk show on KTTH Radio.
All of these changes couldn’t have come at a worse time. Washington state saw a 47 percent rise in homicides last year, almost double the nationwide average.
Seattle is on pace to surpass 2020’s 26-year-high homicide rate record. Tacoma is seeing a similar surge. On the east side of the state, after a 186 percent increase in homicides last year, Spokane continues to see a spike in crime, with 12 drive-by shootings and 44 other shootings this calendar year through May.
Democrats Say Pushback Just Due to ‘Paradigm Shift’
With police statewide hamstrung, how do Democrats think this will end? They don’t seem to care. In a masterclass of gaslighting, the architect of these bills downplays issues, pretending the police were responsible for the violence.
“We have to create new policies because what we were doing before was not working,” Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) told ABC News. “What we wanted to do with these bills is set an expectation that officers de-escalate and that there’s less lethal enforcement of the law. A lot of the pushback we’re getting is because it’s a paradigm shift.”
The pushback they’re getting is because the laws make policing less effective and more dangerous for everyone involved.
Legislators didn’t think these changes through. They exploited the defund police movement that escalated after Floyd died in Minneapolis. They purposefully ignored law enforcement groups and lawmakers with police backgrounds as they warned of what their laws would mean.
Democrats’ goal was to dismantle and reimagine the police. And that’s exactly what they did. Now we wait for its deadly consequences.