OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Authors of the new state police reform laws say police agencies may be misinterpreting them and are being overly cautious amid mounting calls for a special session of the legislature to deal with the confusion.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said recently that its deputies did not try to find a murder suspect in Puyallup with a K9 unit because they feared that they would violate the new state law if they did.
“We had to change our tactics even though a young boy was killed,” said sheriff's Sgt. Darren Moss, Jr.
The Washington State Patrol said it is also not pursuing many suspects because of the new laws.
“And so we’re going to maybe err a little on the side of caution before we decide to get into a pursuit with a vehicle,” Trooper Rocky Oliphant said.
The law enforcement officers say the caution has resulted from having to ensure that probable cause exists in order for them to pursue certain actions, which require a higher standard than what was previously needed: that of reasonable suspicion.
Some state lawmakers say they can't wait until the regular session in January to address the situation.
“We can wait until then, but people are going to be suffering while criminals are thriving,” said state Sen. Chris Gildon (R-Puyallup). “Because of these standards of pursuit, because of the reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause. We need to bring it back to ‘reasonable suspicion."
“Probably the biggest thing is to change the use of force standard from probable cause to reasonable suspicion to allow law enforcement to make arrests in circumstances that I think everybody would say would be a positive for public safety,” said state Sen Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley).
The authors of the laws say law enforcement is misinterpreting the intent.
“I think that’s a little bit blown out of proportion,” said state Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way). “I think people can obviously have the attorney general weigh in. We submitted some of the questions from WASPC, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs today.”
“I think if you actually look at the substance of what we passed, particularly in this bill, I don’t think that it’s something that in working through the interpretation it is going to and should end up with police departments de-policing,” said state Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle). “I just don’t see that as the case.”
As for a special session, Gov. Jay Inslee's office said there is no need for it.
“No. We disagree with how the legislation has been characterized and interpreted by some," his office said in an email to KOMO News. "The state is working on outreach to law enforcement on clearing up their concerns to ensure the law is being interpreted appropriately.”