Local law enforcement have concerns over new police reform laws going into effect

This weekend, new police reform laws go into effect throughout Washington, and some law enforcement agencies are concerned these changes will slow down their ability to provide justice to the community.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a dozen new police reform bills into law. The new laws aim to make law enforcement more transparent and accountable.

One of the new laws, House Bill 1310, focuses on the use of force. The new law now requires police and deputies to have even more certainty than ever when use of force is applied.

However, some agencies are concerned these changes will slow down how they can respond to crimes.

"We’re going to kind of have to think outside the box on how we can change our tactics to kind of apprehend people without apprehending people," said Sergeant Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Moss says previously, law enforcement only had to have "reasonable suspicion" to act, but now "probable cause" is needed to use force.

Moss explained the difference between the two with these examples. He says reasonable suspicion is detaining someone for burglary because they match the suspect description. Moss added probable cause is detaining someone for burglary because they match the suspect description, and they are also holding the items that have been stolen.

Moss says with this change, it will allow some bad guys to get away.

"People who might think about running, now know law enforcement will not be able to do anything to stop them, unless they have this probable cause, which is going to take a little more time," he said.

Other local agencies are also concerned with these upcoming changes.

Both the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Arlington Police Department posted notices to their communities about the upcoming changes, and how it will impact the services they can provide.

Moss says despite these changes, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department will continue to work to protect and serve the community.

"The sheriff’s department is still going to be striving to move forward. We’re still going to go out and do our job to protect our community, provide a great service for our community. We want the community to know that if you’re not satisfied with the way things are going, it’s not that we don’t want to do certain things, it’s that the laws have changed and we can’t do some certain things," said Moss.

Q13 News spoke with staff in the Governor’s office about these concerns. Staff says they are working to address these issues this week.

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz also released a statement addressing questions and concerns from the community. While Chief Diaz acknowledges that the bills have generated some controversy amongst agencies around the state,  he said: "After careful review of the legislation and recent training guidelines produced by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, I am confident that these bills will have limited impact on how SPD provides services," said Diaz.

The legislation has also led to much discussion around the prohibition of the 40mm less lethal launcher tool — a tool that propels soft foam rubber and reduces the risk of penetration.

"While the plain language of HB 1054 would, when strictly construed and read in isolation, prohibit this tool as military equipment, I am of increasing confidence that it was not the intent of the legislature to do so, and that the legislature will make that clear. It is simply anathema to every principle on which these bills are grounded to conclude that the legislature, while promoting in one bill the expanded use of less lethal tools, intended to strip from departments in another an established tool that has allowed marked success in bringing about positive outcomes in dangerous situations. SPD will, accordingly, be maintaining its 40mm program," said Diaz

Because the new legislation creates a standard around if and when officers may use physical force, the most noticeable changes will be the level of Seattle Police response calls that do not involve a crime or can be better directed to other services, according to Chief Diaz.

"While some agencies have taken the position that they will no longer conduct investigatory stops where officers have reasonable suspicion to believe an individual may be involved in criminal activity, and some agencies have declared they will no longer respond to calls involving subjects in behavioral crisis, that is not the position of our department. None of these laws in any way prohibit agencies from responding to calls for service."

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