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Confusion over police reform law continues as recent response call in Kent shows

Kent police on a recent call that was captured on body cam footage.
Kent police on a recent call that was captured on body cam footage.
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KENT, Wash. -- Confusion over the new statewide police reform laws has prompted urgent meetings between state lawmakers, police chiefs and sheriffs, including one set for Wednesday evening in King County.

Police in Kent recently had a situation with a suicidal man who ended up taking his own life.

Some of the officers thought they couldn't respond physically to the address in case he shot himself because of the new laws.

On the officers' bodycam video, one officer could be heard saying, “A shame they put new laws in place. We could have helped him.”

But Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla says it wasn’t because of the new laws.

“Our response before the new laws came out July 25 (was) we would not have gone up to the front door and knocked on it,” he said. “So, I want to make it clear the new laws weren’t a direct result of us not responding.

“So, what I think you were seeing there were some raw emotions of officers had literally just went in there and we’re doing lifesaving CPR," Padilla said. "What I think what you saw was a moment of frustration, not specific to just that situation, but the overall feeling in law enforcement right now where they’re not sure they are really going to be supported for doing the things that they think they should do to protect the community that’s what I think you saw on that.”

The chief said his officers did not go so as to not force a confrontation at the door, which could have made the situation worse.

He said there was a mental health crisis team staged nearby.

“So, there’s nothing in the law that prevents the officers from going there and this is where there is a lot of confusion,” Padilla said.

It is that confusion that has state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) on a statewide tour meeting with chiefs and sheriffs to address the confusion.

“But nothing the legislature did prevents the police from showing up and certainly there is the potential for law enforcement presence to make things worse,” he said. “We don’t want to second guess one situation or another and so, in this particular situation maybe it was good judgement for police not to provoke things further. But maybe not.”

Fife Police Department Chief Peter Fisher said the meetings have been helpful.

“I really do," he said. "I think a big thing obviously both sides if we can reduce ‘police use of force’, police deadly force encounters, that’s a goal of both sides.”

One state Republican lawmaker wants to take it step further.

“I think it’s absolutely tragic," said state Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley). "And one of many areas that need to be rectified in a special session or in January.”

Police departments and lawmakers are also hopeful that the state attorney general will issue opinions to clear up the confusion.

But that won’t happen soon.

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“So, that takes time," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "They won’t be coming out in the next few days or weeks. Those typically take months before we issue those.”

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