Chiefs, sheriffs concerned over new laws
Law enforcement officers urge calls to legislators
Last updated 7/26/2021 at 4pm
SPOKANE VALLEY - Leading law enforcement officers from across Eastern Washington are warning residents that new laws will make it difficult to serve the public on possible criminal activities.
During a press conference Thursday, July 22, nine police chiefs and eight sheriffs gathered at Center Place to voice their concerns about Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1310 and House Bill 1054, and Senate Substitute Bill 5066.
Those laws went into effect at 12:01 a.m., Sunday, July 25.
"The Legislature of the state of Washington chose to craft laws and did not invite your law enforcement leaders to the table to even discuss these," Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. "This is about as clear as mud."
Knezovich said the Legislature ordered the laws be changed now, with training to follow after implementation.
"They did it backwards, folks," he said. "Then they want to claim we don't understand."
The changes weren't necessary, Knezovich said, calling the changes an emotional reaction to incidents that happened across the country last year, but not here.
"This law has been driven completely by misinformation and emotion," he said, referencing bills 1310 1054.
The law prohibits law enforcement officers from using choke holds and neck restraints, as well as prohibiting agencies from having "military equipment," such as machine guns, armed helicopters, rockets, launchers, tanks, bayonets, grenades and more.
According to Knezovich, the law effectively eliminates the agencies' use of shotguns and launchers (which are used for bean bags and other non-lethal deterrent delivery).
"What you have left us with is lethal means only," he said. "Your own AG (attorney general) said you need to do this.
Knezovich said the Legislature reacted to false allegations from activists suggesting without proof that law enforcement shows up with machine guns and other military equipment.
"Activists and activist politicians of the state want you to believe is all we do is go in and escalate," he said.
The changes mean police may not be allowed to go to calls regarding someone who is having a mental health crisis and being disruptive, but not breaking any laws.
Knezovich said prohibiting law enforcement from mental health crises responses may lead to injuries to firefighters and paramedics.
Adams County Sheriff Dale Wagner took time to explain the impact on rural agencies that cover a "lot of miles without a lot of resources."
"This legislation didn't take any of this into account," he said, noting his deputies are often responding alone.
Wagner said his officers often arrive on-scene at crashes and mental health crises before medical officials do.
"Our calls happen rapidly for us," he said. "we're out there by ourselves a lot."
But, he said, the new law means that deputies won't be allowed to remain on-scene if a crime is not imminent.
"We're going to do whatever we can," he said, adding that may not be enough because the Legislature has tied law enforcement hands.
Ferry County Sheriff Ray Maycumber echoed Wagner's sentiments and focused on the morale issues the new laws are causing among officers.
Calling the new laws "demoralizing," he said, "This isn't what they signed up for."
Like Wagner, Maycumber's deputies are often first on-scene for a call in his rural county.
Deputies find solutions, he said, when they arrive.
"Those solutions are being taken away from us," he said.
Maycumber recounted a recent mental health-related incident in which deputies used force to restrain an individual until family and medical personal could interview.
Under the new laws on restraint, "we wouldn't have been able to use force to detain him long enough," he said, adding that he believes the incident would've ended very differently had it occurred after July 25.
He noted that under the new laws, officers may not even be allowed to respond to similar incidents.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said, he too is concerned about the inability of officers to use the tools they need to de-escalate incidents that may or may not be criminal in nature.
He called the laws ambiguous, specifically pointing to language requiring "the least amount of physical force necessary" for a resolution.
"An arm bar, leg sweep or Taser... anyone of those tools would be reasonable," he said. "But which one is least?"
He also pointed to language that essentially prohibits law enforcement from detaining anyone at the scene of a crime without having established probable cause first.
Sometimes, "You need to use reasonable force to prevent people from fleeing," he said.
Probable cause comes only after officers have some time to investigate an incident he said, noting that now officers cannot compel anyone to remain on-scene while they initiate an investigation.
If probable cause isn't established within minutes, officers are now required to let potential suspects leave and will have to use the warrant process to capture them at a later date.
The same thing applies to someone in a mental health crisis, he said, noting they cannot detain them, either.
"If there is no crime that is imminent, officers are required to leave," he said.
Several other police chiefs and sheriffs were on the dais during the gathering, including chiefs Brad Richmond of Airway Heights, John Hensley of Cheney, Jewell Day of Eastern Washington University, Damon Simmons of Liberty Lake, Kevin Fuhr of Moses Lake, Gary Jenkins of Pullman, David Ellis of Spokane Valley and Matt Murray of Yakima; and sheriffs Joe Helm of Columbia County, Jim Raymond of Franklin County, Drew Hyer of Garfield County, Glenn Blakeslee of Pend Oreille County and Brett Myers of Whitman County.
The group is calling on all residents to notify their legislative representatives that the new laws will cause an erosion of law and order.
They also asked residents to urge the laws to be change or rescinded.