OLYMPIA – The Washington State House of Representatives passed a pair of bills Friday afternoon to clarify portions of the police reform package passed by the Legislature last year. HB 1719 passed with a vote of 95-0 and HB 1735 passed 90-5. Last year, legislators passed a package of laws designed to establish clear expectations for officer behavior; to set a baseline for the acceptable use of force, tactics, and equipment; and to put systems of accountability and transparency into place. Like many major changes, there have been challenges in the implementation of these laws.
HB 1735 sponsored by Reps. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) and Alicia Rule (D-Blaine) clarifies that officers can use force, subject to the newly established reasonable care standard, in behavioral health circumstances, for involuntary treatment commitments, in instances of child welfare, and other related circumstances.
Some law enforcement agencies contend that the new use of force standard prevents them from assisting designated crisis responders and mental and behavioral health specialists with involuntary treatments and other community caretaking functions. Regrettably, this has caused some law enforcement agencies to stop responding to community caretaking calls altogether.
“HB 1735 provides law enforcement agencies with the legal certainty they need to assist designated crisis responders, EMTs, and firefighters with transporting those in need of involuntary treatment,” said Rule. “Our designated crisis responders often enter volatile and unstable situations. It is vital that they have the support of law enforcement so that they can safely provide help and treatment to those who need it.”
HB 1719, sponsored by Rep. Dan Bronoske (D-Lakewood), clarifies that the prohibition on .50 caliber weapons only applies to rifles and not beanbag rounds or less-lethal munitions launchers. HB 1054, part of the package passed in 2021, banned firearms over .50 caliber. Rifles sized over .50 caliber were developed as weapons to be used during war and have no appropriate role in our community. Some law enforcement agencies contend that this provision inadvertently banned the use of less-lethal munitions launchers and beanbag rounds. While many agencies have recognized the intent of the legislation was to encourage the use of less-lethal force and continued to use less-lethal alternatives, many agencies have discontinued their use.
“The Legislature never intended to ban less-lethal alternatives. In fact, in HB 1310 we explicitly called for their use prior to employing deadly force,” said Bronoske. “I am happy we were able to pass this bill which will eliminate any ambiguity in the statute and ensure that our law enforcement professionals have the full range of less-lethal alternatives to deadly force available to them.”
“Over the past few months, I have met extensively with law enforcement leaders, rank and file officers, trainers at the Criminal Justice Training Commission, Designated Crisis Responders, mental and behavioral health professionals, firefighters, EMTs, and cities to learn how the police accountability package was being implemented and to ensure that our first responders had the clarity and support necessary to do their jobs,” said Johnson. “I am happy that we were able to work together with all of these stakeholders as well as the families of those impacted by police violence to adjust and clarify our statutes to provide the certainty our officers need to assist designated crisis responders and mental health professionals with involuntary treatments and other community caretaking functions. The goals remain the same, de-escalation and limiting unnecessary police violence while still allowing police to do their job.”
Both HB 1735 and 1719 are supported by the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, the Washington Association of Designated Crisis Responders, and the Association of Washington Cities, among others. Both bills were passed unanimously by the House Public Safety Committee on January 20th. They now head to the Senate for consideration.