Opinion: For what it's worth

Now we can expect more reasonable responses when we call 9-1-1

The legislature dealt with police use-of-force and related questions


Now that the dust has settled from this year's legislative session I want to say how pleased I am with how they dealt with the conflicts that arose from HB 1310 which passed last year. 

As you may recall, the 2021 legislature passed a bill, HB1310, to address the use of force and clarify and limit when it is acceptable.  This was done to address the public's valid concerns over excessive police violence.  While the intent was clear to the legislature, the wording allowed the police to take the position that the new law prevented them from:

  • intervening in Community Care cases,
  • transporting individuals for involuntary commitment, and
  • doing many of the functions that they previously were performing.

The law caused quite a number of problems, both in unnecessary conflicts between elected officials and police departments, but especially by interrupting public safety services to the community.

In this year's session the bill was revised to clarify the legislature's intent and eliminate the conflict.  The original intent of the bill to reduce violence was maintained; the intent was clarified with specific language to eliminate the conflict in providing services.   This year's bill passed the House 90 to 5, the Senate 49 to 0.

HB1735 added new language that amends the law created by HB 1310.  It says, among other things:

  • Nothing limits or restricts a peace officer's authority or responsibility to perform lifesaving measures or perform community caretaking functions to ensure health and safety including, but not limited to, rendering medical assistance, performing welfare checks, or assisting other first responders and medical professionals;

  • Nothing prevents a peace officer from responding to requests for assistance or service from first responders, medical professionals, behavioral health professionals, social service providers, designated crisis responders, shelter or housing providers, or any member of the public.

One of the services our local police were no longer providing was to provide transport for involuntary commitment.   As one can imagine, someone with serious enough mental problems to require involuntary commitment may require some degree of effort to get them into treatment.  The bill addresses this specifically by allowing physical force (not deadly force) to "Take a person into custody, transport a person for evaluation or treatment, or provide other assistance." Again, this tells the police they can resume doing this job for the community. 

I'd like to recognize and thank District 22 Representative Jessica Bateman, Olympia City staff, and all the other people working behind the scene who made these changes happen.  Since last year, they had been working to address the challenges from the original bill and were very successful, much to the benefit of our local communities and the state as a whole.

This law is in addition to others that were passed last year.  Some examples include but aren't limited to the following:

"SB 5051 – Decertification of Officers

"Establishes criteria for mandatory statewide standards to de-certify police and corrections officers.

  • The Criminal Justice Training Commission may conduct independent investigations into allegations of improper conduct.
  • The Criminal Justice Training Commission may issue public recommendations regarding law enforcement agencies' command decisions, inadequacy of policy or training, investigations or disciplinary decisions regarding misconduct, potential systemic violations of law or policy, unconstitutional policing, or other matters.
  • Expands requirements on pre-hire background checks

"SB 5066 – Duty to Intervene

  • Requires any identifiable law enforcement officer who witnesses another officer using or attempting to use excessive force to intervene to end and/or prevent the use of excessive force and also to report such events to their supervisor.

"HB 1267 – Office of Independent Investigations

  • Creates the Office of Independent Investigations within the Office of the Governor and designates that office as the lead investigative body for any investigation it chooses to conduct under its jurisdiction.
  • Requires all law enforcement agencies to immediately notify the Office of Independent Investigations of any incident."

(The text above comes directly from the bills.)

With the new laws, plus the creation of alternatives to sending the police such as Olympia's Crisis Intervention Unit, we create a system of progressive interventions that should provide a more reasonable and appropriate response to calls for help, prevent escalation while minimizing violence, and better address public safety. 

Something needed to be done and I'm glad to see the volume of effort to address these issues, which are faced by the public not only in Thurston County, but nationally.

Next steps include hiring a new police chief in Olympia that embraces these new programs and continuing to involve the public in designing and monitoring our public safety system.

Pat Cole  -  pcbiglife@gmail.com - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussions about local civic issues.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The opinions expressed above are those of Pat Cole and not necessarily of The JOLT or its staff or board of directors.  

Further, if you'd like to express your opinions, please write them up and send them to us, especially if you are focused on Lacey or Tumwater. If you've got questions about what would be acceptable, please call Danny Stusser on 360-357-1000 x1.