Nonprofit calls for updated policy and protection after 3 officers shot in one week in Washington
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Three law enforcement members in Washington were shot in the line of duty in one week, which brings the state's total of officers shot to five so far in 2023.
The shootings occurred in Puyallup in January, and in Shoreline, Seattle, Everett and Pasco in March.
Detective David Easterly with King County Sheriff’s Office was shot in the chest on March 20 while serving an eviction notice. Officer Chad House with Everett Police Department was shot in the forehead while responding to an armed robbery on March 22. An officer with Pasco Police Department has a non-life threatening injury after being shot while conducting a traffic stop of a reckless driver on March 24.
The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs (WACOPS) represents 5,000 members in law enforcement statewide, including Officer House, who was released from a hospital Thursday, and Detective Easterly, who remains at an intensive care unit in critical condition.
As members of law enforcement answer the call to protect and serve, there is the question if enough is being done to protect them. WACOPS executive director Teresa Taylor said laws need to be updated to help prevent officers from getting seriously hurt.
"These are dangerous jobs. These are unfortunately dangerous times. What we would continue to work on behalf of our members to achieve is a more balanced narrative coming from our state and a reminder to community that you do need to follow lawful orders and police officers have a right to defend themselves," said Taylor.
WACOPS, headquartered in Olympia, is a nonprofit that is actively involved in the legislative process. Taylor said the team works to ensure laws are appropriate for the needs of the state and law enforcement. However, Taylor said recently there seems to be a divide.
"Our state has legislators that I think are very committed to making sure that law enforcement are held accountable for their tremendous amount of responsibility and authority. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The issues we have really stem from the manner in which our legislature has been addressing and or changing the laws as they relate to the job that police officers do and how they’re able to protect the public. But also, frankly, how they themselves, are respected and protected in the process as well," said Taylor.
Respect and protection for members in law enforcement are nearing a concerning low, said Taylor.
"There’s a lot of combativeness happening," she said. "There are people in our communities that will do harm to law enforcement. These are the same people that will do harm to others as well and that’s why we need officers who are so honorable and brave and willing to put themselves between those that want to do harm and harm’s way."
The WACOPS executive director said communities have been experiencing a noticeable shift in public safety over the past two years. Taylor said she believes that shift is partially due to the state’s police accountability and reform laws.
"However, we don’t have a whole lot of conversation going on about what is the proper role for community. How should the community be engaging with law enforcement? When is the appropriate time to argue your case? We seem to be having an escalation rather than a de-escalation in some interactions between law enforcement and the public," said Taylor.
She explained Washington has lost about 600 officers in the last two years. With reform laws combined with getting hurt on the job, Taylor said she fears it could make it harder to recruit and retain members to the force.
"Now we have just exacerbated the problem. It not only makes it difficult to keep officers, but it makes it very challenging to recruit them. What we would certainly hope is that our state does not make the mistake of lowering standards as a way to solve that problem. We need to maintain high standards, but we need to create an environment where these young professionals want to come and work, that they feel they’ll be protected and respected," said Taylor.