Washington House Democrats introduced two bills to clarify aspects of the police accountability laws passed by the state Legislature last year.
Last year, the Washington state Legislature passed House Bill 1310 and House Bill 1054, which regulated when officers can use force and what tactics they can use. Together the laws are considered some of the most progressive police reform laws in the nation.
The laws were met with some criticism and resistance from police departments across the state when they went into effect last July. Police misinterpreted some aspects of the law as written.
One of the major points of contention regarded police response to mental health calls and the use of mental health professionals.
HB 1310 requires officers to, when possible, exhaust all available de-escalation tactics prior to using force. This includes “calling for additional resources such as a crisis intervention team or mental health professional,” according to the bill.
Several police departments misinterpreted this to mean that police were no longer allowed to respond to mental health calls, according to the Washington House Democrats. In fact, so many police departments took this stance regarding mental health calls that the Attorney General’s office released a memo clarifying the law in August 2021.
“Bill 1310 does not address when law enforcement may respond to calls, including community caretaking calls which do not involve criminal conduct,” the memo said.
In response to this misinterpretation, State Reps Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way) and Alicia Rule (D-Blaine) introduced House Bill 1735, which clarifies that officers can still use force and respond to mental health calls, according to the Washington House Democrats.
HB 1054 banned the use of firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber and larger. Several departments said this would actually prevent them from using less-lethal weapons such as bean bag rounds in shotguns. The intention of HB 1054 was not to ban less-lethal weapons. To rectify this issue, State Rep. Dan Bronoske (D-Lakewood) sponsored House Bill 1719, which states that the ban applies only to rifles and not to shotguns or less-lethal ammunition launchers.
“The Legislature never intended to ban less-lethal alternatives to deadly force,” Bronoske said. “This bill will eliminate any ambiguity in the statute and ensure that our law enforcement professionals have all of the tools necessary to do their job.”
The clarifying bills seemingly have support from stakeholders on both sides of the issue. The Washington Fraternal Order of Police and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability both expressed support for the two bills.