Message from the Police Chief on 2021 Legislation
Posted on 07/19/2021
Message from the Police ChiefThe Bonney Lake Police Department (BLPD) has always been committed to enforcing the law equally, earning the trust of the community that we serve and being transparent in doing so. In keeping with that transparency, we wanted to let the people of Bonney Lake, and all whom we protect and serve, know that there are some major changes coming that impact how ALL law enforcement agencies in Washington State provide law enforcement service.

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature enacted several bills related to law enforcement, many of which go into effect on July 25, 2021. Below is a summary of the changes that may be most significant for public safety in Bonney Lake.

House Bill 1054, Peace Officers – Tactics & Equipment, prohibits the use of choke holds and neck restraints, limits the use of tear gas, and bans “no-knock” warrants and military style equipment. HB 1054 also significantly changes the requirements for police pursuits by requiring officers to have probable cause, rather than the current reasonable suspicion standard, to believe the person fleeing has committed a specified violent offense, a sex offense, or escape; or to have reasonable suspicion that the person fleeing is driving under the influence. Probable cause is a higher standard that is more difficult to meet than reasonable suspicion. The officer must now additionally get permission from a supervisor or senior officer to initiate the pursuit, and the safety risks of not apprehending the suspect must outweigh the risks caused by the pursuit. For an example of how this could impact our community: Officers are dispatched to an armed robbery and a description of the suspect and suspect’s vehicle is obtained. Officers responding observe the suspect/vehicle. They may attempt to stop the vehicle but if the suspect refuses to stop, officers must terminate the pursuit due to the provisions in HB 1054.

A second new law is House Bill 1310, Law Enforcement & Correctional Officers – Permissible Use of Force. This law requires police to have probable cause to make an arrest or prevent escape before using physical force. Alternatively, police may use physical force in response to an imminent threat of bodily injury. “Physical force,” along with other key terms, is not defined. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to draft a model use of force policy, but gives the AGO until July of 2022 to do so. Meanwhile, local and municipal law enforcement agencies, such as Bonney Lake, are required to implement the changes immediately despite vague or missing definitions, such as “physical force,” “possible”, “available” and “appropriate.”

HB 1310 requires officers to exhaust available and appropriate de-escalation tactics before using physical force, and to use the least force necessary under the circumstances. An example of this would be an officer responding to a reported domestic violence assault. Officers observe a person matching the description of the suspect walking away from the scene with obvious signs of being involved in a physical altercation. If the suspect refuses to stop, or flees before the officers can investigate the alleged crime, officers have no choice but to allow the suspect to leave until they can establish probable cause that a crime has been committed, which takes time. In addition, if probable cause is established for the crime of domestic violence, and the suspect flees in a vehicle and does not stop for officers, officers must terminate the pursuit if probable cause is not established due to the restrictions in HB 1054.

The new law also prohibits use of physical force to take mentally ill persons into custody. It encourages officers to leave the scene if there is no probable cause for arrest or imminent threat of bodily injury. Most of the “welfare checks” and mental health calls that we respond to do not involve criminal behavior or imminent threat of bodily injury. In most situations, officers will respond, assess and, most likely, leave the area.

Finally, in February of 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court declared Washington’s drug possession statute unconstitutional, because it did not require a showing that a defendant “knowingly” possessed drugs. In response, the Washington legislature amended the statute to insert a requirement for “knowing” possession. The new law downgrades drug possession to a misdemeanor and requires law enforcement agencies to make at least two referrals to substance abuse services before misdemeanor charges can be brought. There is currently no statewide system for tracking referrals; accordingly, defendants may effectively receive multiple chances across different jurisdictions before facing criminal charges.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) attempted to inform the authors of the legislation of the potential negative impacts to the safety of our communities due to the unanswered questions but the concerns fell on deaf ears. WASPC has also requested that the Attorney General review and give guidance on the ambiguous language in the legislation.

This well-meaning legislation does not take into account the victims of crime or those tasked with enforcing the laws in spite of the increase in violent crime across the state. The BLPD supports effective and responsible changes that enhance public safety and the BLPD remains committed to the safety of our citizens and our officers. We are in the process of training our officers on the new standards. BLPD will adapt to the changes as a result of this new legislation, but you can still count on receiving the highest standard of service and law enforcement that the law will allow.

The Bonney Lake Police Department is proud to serve this great community!

Bryan Jeter
Chief of Police