HB 2037 and 1719 to amend police reform laws that police say hindered them from doing their job

TRI-CITIES, WA – Substitute House Bill 2037 and House Bill 1719 were signed by Governor Jay Inlsee last week which amend police reform legislation from 2021 like HB 1310 amongst others.

“The majority of the reforms we put in place last year are still very much in effect. These are refinements and clarifications that are important, but do not roll back police reform enacted last year,” said Representative Roger Goodman.

In the wake of multiple police reform bills passed last year, police say some of them kept them from doing their job effectively. Police told legislatures laws like House Bill 1310 kept them from pursuing possible suspects of crimes because that would mean they would have to use force.

“We did not want police to be using unreasonable force on people who could possibly be innocent just because of reasonable suspicion. Too many people were getting hurt and killed that way,” said Goodman, “But we also do not want suspects who could be criminals getting away.”

Which is why HB 2037 was drafted. This laid out clearly when police could use force: to stop a suspect from fleeing the scene.

“For example, we could get a call about a domestic disturbance and maybe see someone with a car fitting the description of the suspect, but under 1310, we felt we were not able to pursue that person because that would mean some type of force. The only way to investigate or detain that person is if they voluntarily let us,” said Lieutenant Jason Kiel with Kennewick Police Department.

Lawmakers and police agreed that the reason for this confusion was the lack of clear wording that described what the use of force should be.

“Now, under 2037, police still should not use unreasonable force just for questioning someone during investigatory detainment leading to possible arrest. But they can use force to arrest them and if the person is not complying. They can also use force if a possible suspect is fleeing the scene of a crime,” said Goodman.

“I think there are some unintended consequences that came from legislation last July. I don’t think that was the intent. The intent was to create a greater level of accountability to police and now we feel better about 2037,” said Kiel.

Additionally, House Bill 1719 brings back the use of some non-lethal weapons that were unintentionally banned last year. This includes weapons like the .37 mm launcher.

“The .37 mm launcher could not be used last year under the wording of the legislation. I don’t think that was the intention, but the .37 mm is good to use for less-lethal use of force because it basically shoots rubber,” said Lieutenant Erickson with Benton County Sheriff’s Department.

While police chiefs, police unions, sheriff’s deputies, and law enforcement from both the city and Washington counties were a part of creating the police reform legislation last year, even they missed some of the possible loopholes in this legislation.

“Nobody caught the fact that we banned some non-lethal weapons. We wanted to ban the rifle, which is military equipment that is not suitable for our streets, but under the wording of the legislation, it did not make it clear and police thought we were banning the .37 mm launcher. But we really want to encourage police to use less lethal force. HB 2037 would allow for that,” said Goodman.

Goodman and other lawmakers like Rep. Jesse Johnson said it was never their intent to block police from doing their jobs, arresting suspects, or patrolling the streets. After the 2020 George Floyd murder, lawmakers said the legislation was really just intended to keep police accountable and prevent more deaths and injuries from happening in police custody.

“It’s normal as with any bill that we are going to come back the next year and have to amend it as other problems arise that no one can predict until they actually happen,” said Goodman.

When Governor Inlsee signed 2037 last Thursday, he said:

HB 2037 helps police officers deal with situations where criminal suspects leave the scene to avoid questioning during an investigative stop. The bill clarifies that ‘use of force’ is limited and defined to prevent a suspect from fleeing a scene. Thanks to the sponsor, Rep. Goodman, and Rep. Jesse Johnson for their leadership in refining our police reform laws this year. Both met with law enforcement officials statewide and community stakeholders to craft legislation that upholds the principles of police accountability, de-escalation, and the protection of individual liberties. This bill is a result of their hard work.””It’s not about making our job easier, this is about increasing our effectiveness in holding people accountable and bringing some level of comfort to victims of crime,” said Kiel.

“Hopefully with this new legislation we can get back to catching more suspects easier and therefore keeping the community safe and keeping more violent crimes from happening,” said Erickson.

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