Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday rolling back part of the state’s sweeping police reform legislation from last year after law enforcement and key Democratic lawmakers agreed the original bill went too far.
The measure, House Bill 2037, makes clear police can use force to stop people from fleeing temporary investigative detentions, known as Terry stops. Officers said restrictions passed by lawmakers in 2021 had left them unable to do so, meaning potential suspects could simply leave.
Under the bill, police still must use reasonable care, including appropriate de-escalation techniques, and they may not use force during Terry stops when the people being detained are compliant. Inslee said it “upholds the principle of police accountability, de-escalation and the protection of individual liberties."
Following 2020's widespread protests for police accountability in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Washington lawmakers passed an array of reforms covering everything from the background checks officers undergo before they're hired to the circumstances under which they can be decertified.
Among them was House Bill 1310, which said officers could use force only when they had probable cause to make an arrest or to prevent imminent injury, and that they were required to use appropriate de-escalation tactics if possible.
Police said the measure hindered their response to crime: Often when officers show up at a scene, they need to detain people to figure out if they were involved in a crime. But under House Bill 1310, they couldn't use force to detain them unless they already had probable cause to arrest them, they said.
Police accountability activists said that was by design. Too often, they argued, officers use force against the wrong people, especially minorities. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability urged Inslee to veto the measure allowing police to use force to prevent people from fleeing, saying House Bill 1310 was “deliberately written to address discriminatory policing and reduce violence.”
“Police don’t need additional authority to use force,” said Leslie Cushman, of the coalition.
Rep. Jesse Johnson, the Federal Way Democrat who sponsored House Bill 1310, said restricting the ability of police to detain fleeing suspects was unintentional. The measure signed by Inslee Thursday allows police to do their jobs while also requiring them to use no more force than necessary.
The bill also addresses another shortcoming identified by police: They noted that while House Bill 1310 restricted when they can use force, it left undefined what “force” is. The measure defines it as any act reasonably likely to cause physical pain, or any act exerted upon a person to compel or gain control of them. It doesn't include pat-downs or handcuffing a compliant suspect.
Earlier this month Inslee signed two other bills fixing parts of last year’s police reform package. One made clear officers may use force to help detain or transport people in behavioral health crisis, while the other corrected an oversight that seemed to inadvertently prohibit police departments from possessing certain less-lethal weapons.