The Legislative Building at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Legislative Building at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Inslee signs laws that fine-tune last year’s policing reform

Lawmakers retooled a law that police said stops them from assisting people in crisis and protecting the public.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed two laws Friday addressing the concerns of police that restrictions on their use of physical force, enacted last year, have handcuffed their ability to assist those in mental crisis and preserve public safety.

And a third bill, clarifying aspects of that landmark policing reform, is on the way to the governor after it cleared a final legislative hurdle Friday.

In 2021, Democrats pushed through a suite of reforms intended to reduce police brutality by establishing a state standard for permissible use of force and requiring that law enforcement officers use “de-escalation tactics” before getting physical with someone.

The law limits the use of physical force by police officers to certain circumstances, such as when there’s probable cause to make an arrest, to prevent an escape or to protect themselves or others against “imminent threat of bodily injury.”

Since then, civic and law enforcement leaders claim, there have been unintended consequences, including an inability to use force to transport people in mental health crisis to a hospital.

Last month, a woman allegedly assaulted a mental health professional near Bothell as authorities tried to commit her. A Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy on the scene said they were constrained by the law from getting the person committed before the attack.

On Friday, Inslee signed House Bill 1735, which clarifies when an officer can use reasonable force in a non-criminal incident, such as to provide assistance or transportation to an individual experiencing a mental health crisis.

“We did the right thing last year by taking important steps to pass police reform legislation. However, we’ve experienced cases since then where police aren’t sure if they can help a person in crisis,” Inslee said. “This bill makes it absolutely clear that they can.”

Also Friday, Inslee signed House Bill 1719, restoring the ability of police to use certain types of nonlethal weapons. They include devices used to fire rubber bullets, bean bags or other types of “nonpenetrating impact rounds.” That bill cleared the Legislature without a single dissenting vote.

“This bill addresses an inadvertent — and unwanted — consequence of our 2021 police reform legislation,” Inslee said.

Both bills contained emergency clauses and took effect on signing.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Friday passed House Bill 2037, adding language to the 2021 law to make clear officers can use physical force “to the extent necessary” to prevent a person from leaving the scene of an investigation — known as a “lawful temporary investigative detention” — even if it is not certain the detained person has committed or was involved in a crime.

The measure passed 32-16 as 11 Democrats joined the entire Senate Republican caucus in support. Sixteen Democratic senators opposed the bill. Police accountability activists said the bill represented a rollback of changes made last year.

The bill can now go to Inslee for signing because the Senate made no changes to the version passed by the House.

Also Friday, the House voted 86-12 to approve Senate Bill 5919, concerning how and when police conduct vehicle pursuits.

One change allows initiation of a chase if there is a reasonable suspicion “that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense.” Current law requires there to be “probable cause,” which is a higher standard.

Because of changes made by the House, the bill will return to the Senate for further action.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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