VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — The way police do their jobs in the state of Washington is about to dramatically change under new police accountability laws passed by the legislature.
In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the ambitious packages of police accountability legislation, prompted by last year’s outcry for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police.
The dozen bills Inslee signed include outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants such as the one that helped lead to Taylor’s killing in Louisville, Kentucky.
They require officers to intervene if their colleagues engage in excessive force — a demand inspired by the officers who stood by while Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
The bills also create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police, make it easier to decertify police for bad acts, and require officers to use “reasonable care,” including exhausting de-escalation tactics, in carrying out their duties. The use of tear gas and car chases are restricted and it’s easier to sue officers when they inflict injury.
The Clark County sheriff has called the bills “the most significant package of police reforms in our history of current law enforcement.”
On Friday, two days before the new laws go into effect, Clark County Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy John Horch talked about possible scenarios that demonstrate how their jobs will change including refusing to respond to certain 911 calls or leaving the scene.
“If we get a call and there is not enough information, we believe there’s reasonable suspicion to stop a bank robbery car in the area and match the description. But if there’s just not quite enough to have probable cause in the past, we could stop a car. We can still stop it. If they stop, we’re fine right now. But if for some reason they say they want to leave or they don’t, or they run, we can’t pursue that vehicle minus probable cause.”
Horch offered another scenario in which a parent calls authorities because their child is at a friend’s house and won’t come home.
“We get a call, we go there, we walk in. We say ‘it’s time to go home’ or we were, or if we’re going to a group home, they get in the car. We take them, no issue. If she or he runs out the back, we can no longer grab onto them if there’s no imminent danger,” said Horch. “Now, if they say ‘I’m going to go kill myself, I’m going to go kill somebody else’ and there’s some imminent danger, then we can use physical force. But if they just run out the back, we can’t physically detain a juvenile.”
Horch said the rules on detaining a potential suspect during a domestic violence call have also changed.
“Let’s say a male walks out past us and we’re in the driveway and we can kind of see that a disturbance has occurred and somebody inside crying,” he said. “And the male says ‘I’m not stopping, I’m gonna keep walking, there’s no reason you can detain me’ at that point, we haven’t talked to the other person yet. We can’t physically detain him like we could in the past.”
Horsch said officers would first have to talk to the victim to obtain probable cause before they could track down the suspect.
Authorities will have new rules in handling a situation involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Horsch said in the past, they would have approached a person and attempted to calm them but now they are required to keep their distance.
“It’s frustrating because most people got into [law enforcement] to be a public servant and it’s a very noble profession,” he said. “And now they’re being restricted of helping those victims.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) described the new package of laws as a “carefully nuanced bill that will provide guidance.” But Horch told KOIN 6 News there is still some confusion over what authorities can and can’t do.
“There are some deputies that believe police work is over. There are others that are going ‘I get it, I get what they’re saying, I may have to let somebody go when I don’t want to,'” he said.
Under the new laws, paramedics may be on their own when it comes to getting a combative patient onto a gurney. The law directs 911 and police to have mental health workers respond instead of officers but the Clark County Sheriff’s Office says there are not enough mental health workers available to keep up with demand.
It’s up to every department to decide how to interpret the law and how to respond to calls.
KOIN 6 has reached out to the 911 dispatch center in Clark County to see if they will stop dispatching officers to certain calls. Officials said callers should expect to answer a lot more questions in order to determine who should respond — a process that could lead to longer wait times.