OLYMPIA – Governor Jay Inslee signed a pair of bills Friday to clarify portions of the police reform package passed by the Legislature last year. 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 1719 and HB 1735 removed ambiguity from statute that had led some departments to stop using less lethal munitions and stop responding to community caretaking calls. Both bills had an emergency clause and are now in effect.
HB 1735 sponsored by Reps. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) 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 contended that the new use of force standard prevented them from assisting designated crisis responders and mental and behavioral health specialists with involuntary treatments and other community caretaking functions. Regrettably, this caused some law enforcement agencies to stop responding to community caretaking calls altogether.
“Law enforcement agencies now have the legal certainty they need to assist designated crisis responders, EMTs, and firefighters with transporting those in need of involuntary treatment,” said Johnson. “After meeting extensively with law enforcement leaders, rank and file officers, Designated Crisis Responders, mental and behavioral health professionals, firefighters, and EMTs, it became clear that more certainty was required in statute. Designated crisis responders often enter volatile and unstable situations, and it is vital that they have the support of law enforcement to safely do their job. The goal remains the same, de-escalation and limiting unnecessary police violence while still allowing police to do their job.”
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 recognized the intent of the legislation was to encourage the use of less-lethal force and continued to use less-lethal alternatives, many agencies discontinued their use.
“This bill ensures that our law enforcement professionals have the full range of less-lethal alternatives to deadly force available to them,” said Bronoske. I am happy that we were able to eliminate any ambiguity in the statute. The Legislature never intended to ban less-lethal alternatives and it is important that officers have every tool to prevent deadly force available to them.”
Both HB 1735 and HB 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. HB 1735 was passed by the state House of Representatives with a vote of 90-5 on January 28th and unanimously by the Senate on February 25th. HB 1719 was passed unanimously by the House and Senate on January 28th and February 25th respectively. Both bills had an emergency clause and are now in effect.