By Corporal Ian Durkee, City of Mill Creek Police Department, July 22, 2021.
The 2021 legislative session brought the enactment of major pieces of legislation that significantly affect the Mill Creek Police Department and all law enforcement agencies in Washington State. The changes go into effect on July 25, 2021, and will have far reaching effects.
Although the legislature gave the Attorney General until July 1, 2022 - almost a year - to develop new guidelines to implement the new laws, law enforcement agencies must comply with the new laws on day they become effective.
As a result, the Mill Creek Police Department has made significant changes to its use of force policies.
Law enforcement response to calls will change noticeably in order to comply with the requirements in these new laws.
We cannot possibly cover all the impacts and changes in this statement. However, we believe it is important to communicate some of the major ways these laws will change response to calls for service.
The most impactful House Bills we want everyone to be aware of are: House Bill 1310, related to use of force; and House Bill 1054, related to police tactics and equipment.
Use of Force Changes
The changes created by House Bill 1310 will have a great impact on law enforcement responses and investigations. In certain situations, we may no longer be able to respond to some calls.
The effect of the requirements in the bill will be a significantly slower law enforcement response to many calls for service while officers engage in de-escalation tactics and other requirements listed in the law.
De-escalation is described in the bill as, “creating physical distance by employing tactical repositioning and repositioning as often as necessary to maintain the benefit of time, distance, and cover.”
The bill also requires “leaving the area if there is no threat of imminent harm and no crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed.”
Under the new law, an officer is required to establish probable cause for arrest before they can use any amount of physical force to stop a suspect of a crime.
Previously, an officer could use reasonable and necessary force to detain someone they had “reasonable suspicion” to suspect of committing or being involved in the commission of a crime.
Probable cause is a legal standard that is required for an officer to make an arrest and is usually not obtained until a significant amount of investigation has taken place.
Without the ability to use reasonable force to detain a suspected criminal and then complete additional investigation to gain enough information for probable cause, many suspects will get away initially.
This means that a significant amount of investigative time and resources will likely be required to attempt to identify the suspect or complete an arrest, most likely long after the fact.
House Bill 1310 also changes how law enforcement handles many non-criminal calls that we have handled on a routine basis where there is concern for safety and well-being, or where the general goal is to get some help for a person.
These types of non-criminal police interactions are known as “community caretaking.”
Two common examples of community care taking calls would be welfare checks and behavioral health or mental health crisis calls. In most of these instances, the requirement to “leave the area” will likely apply.
Vehicle Pursuit Changes
House Bill 1054 covers a variety of police tactics. One of the biggest changes created by the bill will be restrictions on vehicle pursuits.
Pursuits would only be authorized when there is probable cause for an extremely narrow set of incredibly rare circumstances, and would make justification for a pursuit nearly impossible.
We have attached a link for anyone who wishes to review the new laws. Bills may be searched by number (i.e. 1310) using the following link: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/.
The Washington State Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association communicated with the Legislature to clarify how to interpret part of the new laws in order to help law enforcement understand how to comply with these changes.
Statewide law enforcement agencies have requested clarification and direction on some of the requirements of the new laws.
At this time, we have not received a response to this request. Since the new laws become effective on July 25, 2021, the Mill Creek Police Department has amended our policies and procedures to respond to the new statutes.
The Washington State Attorney General has until July 1, 2022, to develop and publish a model policy related to the changes created by House Bill 1310, and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission has until January 1, 2022, to publish a model policy related to the changes created by House Bill 1054.
We fully support changes to law and policy which build public trust while maintaining the safety of the public.
Even in the face of these challenges, the Mill Creek Police Department remains committed to lawfully protecting our citizens and community.